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Archive for Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Kansas Legislature’s key players

January 10, 2010

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Here are the key players who will guide the 2010 legislative session:

Gov. Mark Parkinson. A Democrat, he was once chairman of the Kansas Republican Party but quit the GOP to run as lieutenant governor in 2006 with former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. When Sebelius was picked last year by President Barack Obama to be head of the federal health and human services agency, Parkinson became governor in the middle of the worst budget crisis in Kansas history.

He immediately proclaimed he would not run for election for governor this year. He has been forced to enact two allotments — budget cuts and other maneuvers — to keep the current fiscal year budget in balance.

In interviews prior to the session, Parkinson said that he is done cutting the budget, and that he will propose a cigarette tax increase. His revenue secretary, Joan Wagnon, also has proposed $200 million worth of repealed sales tax exemptions.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence. Republicans hold a commanding 31-9 advantage over Democrats, but their caucus is oftentimes almost evenly split between so-called moderates and conservatives. Morris would like a comprehensive highway plan, important for western Kansas, and Schmidt has announced he will be running for attorney general. Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka will often pair up with moderates or conservatives, whichever coalition furthers the Democratic agenda.

House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, and House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, lead a 76-49 majority in the House, but like the Senate, the GOP caucus has fractures. That’s why House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence often has the strongest voting bloc in the Legislature.

Kansas Supreme Court — The seven-member court may become a force to be reckoned with during the session if it sides with a coalition of school districts and decides to reopen school finance litigation. In 2006, the court ordered school funding increases. Now the state is cutting back on those dollars.

U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. He’s not in the Legislature, but without any opposition in this year’s gubernatorial race, he is the odds-on favorite at this point to be Kansas’ next governor, and his shadow will be noted during this legislative session. The possibility of Brownback taking over in 2011 plays several ways. Advocates for education and social services may see the 2010 session as the last possible chance for a tax increase. Should Brownback win, conservatives will have a strong ally as chief executive of the state.

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