Topeka Kansas lawmakers will officially head into overtime Monday, the 91st day of the legislative session, with the three biggest issues of the year — taxes, the budget and school finance — all still unresolved.
Lawmakers typically try to limit sessions to no more than 90 days, and the Kansas Constitution imposes that limit in even-numbered years. But even though lawmakers budgeted for 100 days in 2017, some say it may be a challenge even to meet that target.
A House committee came close Friday afternoon to finishing work on a school funding plan that would add more than $750 million in annual school funding, phased in over five years. But it wasn't clear Friday how soon Republican leaders in the House would put that bill before the full House for debate and votes.
"I think getting this bill moving will help, but I really don't know what the process will be for that," said Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, who serves on the committee writing the school funding bill. "There are those windows built in, the timing of things. We send stuff to the governor and he's got his timeline for review. I don't know how quickly things get expedited. But I do think, in terms of breaking the logjam, moving this education bill is key to moving the debate forward in a meaningful way on tax and budget issues."
Both the House and Senate budget committees have finished writing their proposed two-year budget plans for everything in state government except K-12 school finance. But so far, neither chamber has been able to muster the votes needed to override a veto of any tax package that would fund those budgets, let alone fund the additional cost of public schools.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted down a tax bill that would have raised more than $1 billion in new revenue over the next two years when Democrats refused to support it, arguing that it wasn't enough to pay for increased school funding. They have insisted a tax bill should be done last, after the budget and school finance, so lawmakers will know how much of a tax increase is needed.
Republican leaders, however, want to resolve the tax issue first so they will know what limits need to be put around the budget and school finance. Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning said after the tax vote that he intends to work with Gov. Sam Brownback on a smaller package that Brownback would not veto, but which would probably force lawmakers to cut both the budget and school finance package.
Meanwhile, House Republican Leader Don Hineman of Dighton has talked about a possible temporary "surcharge" that could be added onto state income taxes until state revenues recover on their own.
"One of two things will happen," House Democratic Leader Jim Ward of Wichita said. "Either they'll put an education bill on the floor that we can have a fair and honest debate (about) to determine what we're going to do to fix the school finance formula, and then we'll take up the budget and the tax for them, or they (Republican leaders) get 65 from 85 and then just squeeze education."
Ward was referring to the idea of getting 63-65 of the 85 Republicans in the House to vote for a smaller tax package that would force lawmakers to limit the increase for education.
In addition to the three biggest issues that lawmakers must resolve before they end the session, many Democrats and moderate Republicans still want to vote on a gun bill that would prevent public buildings, including public hospitals as well as colleges and universities, from having to allow people to carry concealed firearms in those buildings starting July 1.
Hineman had said before the start of the wrap-up session May 1 that there were ongoing negotiations between supporters of such a bill and gun rights advocates to come up with a compromise, but no such bill has come forward.
Several lawmakers also want another chance to pass a Medicaid expansion bill, similar to the one Brownback vetoed earlier in the session. But GOP leaders so far have not been willing to do that since an effort to override Brownback's veto failed in the House.