Archive for Saturday, April 2, 2005

GOP shows off strength during session

Republicans take advantage of large majorities

April 2, 2005


— From health care to school finance, Republicans flexed their majority muscle before adjourning Friday with the major part of this year's legislative session.

Lawmakers are scheduled to return April 27 for what is expected to be about a three-day wrap-up session.

On the major issues of the session, Republicans simply ran over Democrats, whom they outnumber in the Senate, 30-10, and the House, 83-42.

They passed a school finance plan and state budget with almost no Democratic support and killed a health care plan offered by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, that had been endorsed by the health care industry.

And it was mostly Republican votes that put the proposed gay marriage prohibition on Tuesday's ballot.

"They have huge majorities in both chambers and they took advantage of that," Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said. "But bad politics does not translate into good policy."

He said Republicans were trying to embarrass Sebelius, who will face re-election in 2006.

"They are gearing up for 2006, but I believe their strategy will backfire," Hensley said.

But Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt of Independence said Republicans stepped up to their responsibilities.

"As the majority party, we felt like we had to deliver a work product, and we didn't have the luxury of debating what might be done in an ideal world, and so we delivered," Schmidt said.

Republican school plan

On school finance, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled lawmakers had failed their constitutional duty to provide adequate and equitably distributed funding. The court, noting a consultant study that $1 billion in additional school funding was needed, gave the Legislature until April 12 to fix the system.

In response to the court, Republicans pushed through a $125.2 million increase to schools that holds the line on statewide taxes but will allow nearly $500 million in local property taxes. Only one Democrat voted for it.

Democrats said the state portion of funding was inadequate and without a statewide tax increase, it was unable to sustain even that level of funding. Plus, they said, relying more on local property taxes will only worsen funding inequities in the system.

"A student in Kansas should have the opportunity to get a first-rate education wherever they live," House Democratic Leader Dennis McKinney of Greensburg said. "This school finance plan we passed moves us away from that."

But House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, defended the proposal because it increases funding for at-risk, bilingual and special education students.

Mays said the Democrats defended Sebelius' position of increased taxes for schools, while Republicans were committed to raising more funds for schools without a tax increase.

"We came in with two different philosophies on this No. 1 issue," Mays said.

Moderates neutralized

Though outnumbered, Democrats often take advantage of the split between conservative and moderate Republicans to advance issues. But this session those instances were rare.

Hensley said conservatives have ruled the session because several moderate Republicans were defeated in last year's primary with the help of anti-government groups.

"Some moderate Republicans have run for cover," he said.

Mays and Schmidt agreed the Legislature had become more conservative.

"The Legislature reflects the state, and the state as a whole has become more conservative over the past 20 years," Schmidt said.

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