Douglas County legislators said Saturday that major political battles over taxes, school finance and redistricting are lining up for the rest of the 2012 legislative session.
State Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, said the session could match the record 107-day session of 2002 because of redistricting fights alone.
Her comment came before about 75 people who attended the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce Eggs and Issues breakfast at the Eldridge Hotel.
The panel of legislators included only Democrats — state Sens. Marci Francisco of Lawrence, Tom Holland of Baldwin City, and Reps. Paul Davis of Lawrence and Mah. Three Republican legislators — Anthony Brown of Eudora, TerriLois Gregory of Baldwin City and Tom Sloan of Lawrence — were invited but had previous commitments, as did state Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence.
Others on the panel said that much of the Legislature’s energy has been taken up pushing back against proposals from Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican.
“The story of the session so far is that the governor put forward major initiatives, and most of those initiatives don’t appear to be going anywhere right now,” said Davis, who is the House minority leader.
The legislators said Brownback’s proposal to reduce income tax rates and eliminate taxes for tens of thousands of businesses, while getting rid of deductions and keeping in place what was supposed to be a temporary sales tax increase, has proven unpopular.
“If you hear a beep, beep, beep sound coming from the west, it’s everybody backing away from the governor’s tax plan,” Mah said.
Brownback has said his proposal would spur the economy and create jobs.
On education funding, Brownback has proposed an overhaul of the school finance system that would eliminate state limits on local property taxes for education and junk the system of providing extra funds to offset additional costs of educating students with learning obstacles. Brownback has said the current system is broken, and his plan would give local districts more say-so in school funding.
“I have never bought into the governor’s rationale that the current finance formula is broken. We just haven’t put money into it,” Holland said, noting that the state has cut base state aid to school districts for several years because of budget constraints. Democrats have supported a plan to start restoring funds to schools over several years, using a portion of the state’s growing surplus.
Holland and Davis said there is also discontent among Republicans and Democrats over Brownback’s plan to convert Medicaid to a managed care system run by private insurance companies. They said Brownback needs to take a more cautious approach toward changing the system that provides health care for more than 350,000 Kansans.
The Legislature has also embarked on the once-a-decade process of redrawing congressional, legislative and State Board of Education boundaries to accommodate population shifts.
Davis described some of the congressional district proposals that have emerged in the House as “the goofiest you have ever seen.” He criticized them, saying, “The theme that runs through all of them is trying to protect the four incumbent congresspersons into perpetuity.”
On arts funding, an issue that erupted last year when Brownback’s veto made Kansas the first state to stop funding the arts, Francisco said there is movement to form a new Creative Industries Commission.
But she said it must be adequately funded. Brownback has proposed about $90,000 in additional funding, but Francisco said about $800,000 is needed “to make this a workable plan.” After Brownback’s veto of $689,000 in arts funding, the state lost access to $1.3 million in federal arts funds.
Legislators also voiced opposition to a proposal to move the public pension system to one that is more like a 401(k) system. They said the state needs to provide more funding to the current system because it has shorted it for many years.