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Archive for Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Kansans await word on whether a new leader will lead state

April 28, 2009, 10:39 a.m. Updated April 28, 2009, 11:23 a.m.

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— Some Kansas officials anticipated a quick transition Tuesday to a new governor if Kathleen Sebelius won U.S. Senate confirmation as federal secretary of health and human services.

“I’d say within an hour” of her confirmation, said state Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.

An afternoon vote was expected in Washington on Sebelius’ appointment by President Barack Obama, and Democrats there expected her to win confirmation. After that vote, she was expected to resign, an event that would elevate Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson to the state’s top elected office.

Sebelius’ staff has said little publicly about any arrangements for a formal transfer of power. Spokeswoman Beth Martino said Tuesday morning that she had no information on the potential transition.

The U.S. Senate’s vote was to occur the day before the Kansas Legislature returned from its annual spring break to wrap up its business for the year. Its most pressing task will be closing a projected $328 million deficit in next year’s state budget.

Sebelius, 60, would take over the sprawling HHS bureaucracy as the federal government attempts to deal with the arrival of a new swine flu strain. The virus has caused at least 152 deaths in Mexico, and while there are no reported deaths in the U.S., at least 51 cases have been confirmed, including two in Kansas.

State Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, said he expected that the White House would want Sebelius at HHS as soon as possible, leading her to resign as governor quickly.

“With all that swine flu floating around, I’d think they’d want to expedite it,” Morris said.

Sebelius, a Democrat who has gained national attention for prospering in a GOP-leaning state, is serving her second term as governor.

She would be only the fourth Kansas governor to resign before his or her term expired. The last time was in January 1957; no governor has died in office.

Parkinson, 51, is a former Kansas Republican Party chairman who switched parties to run on Sebelius’ re-election ticket in 2006. He also served six years in the Legislature in the 1990s.

Leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature have expressed confidence in Parkinson’s ability to take over the governor’s office, and some GOP legislators consider him more approachable than Sebelius.

But the state’s financial problems will prove daunting. Legislators will have to cut spending, raise revenues, or both to close the projected shortfall in the $13 billion budget they have approved for the state’s 2010 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Legislative leaders see no support for a general tax increase but have said lawmakers may consider proposals such as tapping gambling funds, diverting revenues from cities and counties, and canceling tax cuts that were scheduled to take effect next year.

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