Entries from blogs tagged with “politics”
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt joined eight other states in filing a federal lawsuit Tuesday that seeks to block the Environmental Protection Agency from extending clean water regulations into small ponds and tributaries.
“Congress never intended for the federal government to regulate ditches or farm ponds,” Schmidt said in a statement released Tuesday. “This regulation grossly exceeds the authority granted to federal agencies by the Clean Water Act – authority that rightfully belongs to the states and that is limited by private property rights protected by the Constitution.”
The new rules, published in the Federal Register Monday, clarifiy the definition of "waters of the United States," which are subject to regulation by the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The rules are set to take effect Aug. 28.
Traditionally, waters of the United States have included "navigable" waters that cross state lines or are used in interstate commerce. But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled several times that many upstream waters and tributaries must also be regulated because they have a significant impact on downstream waters. The standard is whether there is a "significant nexus" with those downstream waters.
For its part, the EPA denies that the new rules impose any new regulatory hardship and it says they are merely a new interpretation of existing standards, based on "science, Supreme Court decisions ... and the agencies’ experience and technical expertise."
"This rule not only maintains current statutory exemptions, it expands regulatory exclusions from the definition of ‘waters of the United States’ to make it clear that this rule does not add any additional permitting requirements on agriculture," the agency's public notice states.
The other states involved in the suit are Georgia, West Virginia, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin. The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Georgia.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has been eagerly sought by reporters this week for comments on major court cases in which he came out on the losing end. But those requests generally went unanswered, until late Friday afternoon.
“We are reviewing the past two days’ opinions internally and with our various clients to assess next steps," Schmidt said. "Fortunately, tomorrow (Saturday) starts a weekend, and the courts should be done at least for this week with issuing decisions.”
As the state's attorney general, Schmidt is responsible for defending the state and its laws whenever they are challenged in court. In recent months, that has included:
• Defending the state's ban on same-sex marriage against a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties union.
• Defending the state's new ban on an abortion procedure known as "dilation and evacuation," or D&E, which anti-abortion activists now call "dismemberment abortion," in the face of a lawsuit by an abortion rights group.
• And defending the state's school finance system, including a major overhaul made just a few months ago, against a lawsuit filed by several school districts.
Along the way, Schmidt also has intervened as a "friend of the court" in federal cases challenging portions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, although his two-sentence response Friday wasn't specifically aimed at the health care decision.
On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the key provision of Obamacare that Schmidt's office had challenged. And that same day, a Shawnee County district judge issued an injunction against enforcing the state's new abortion ban.
Then on Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt another blow, declaring state bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional and giving gay couples the right to marry in all 50 states.
And finally Friday, a three-judge panel flatly declared the state's school funding mechanism a violation of the Kansas Constitution.
People in Kansas and other states that do not operate their own health insurance market exchanges can continue to receive federal subsidies to buy policies on the federal exchange, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
In a 6-3 decision, the court rejected a challenge by plaintiffs who argued that, as written, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," only allows subsidies to be paid for people who buy policies on state-based exchanges.
The ruling was good news for the nearly 70,000 Kansans, including nearly 5,000 in Douglas County, who have received federal subsidies to buy health insurance in the two years since the law took effect.
But it was a setback to critics of the health care law who hoped that a decision striking down the subsidies would be a death blow to the program that they have characterized as a federal "takeover" of the nation's health care system.
The Kansas Senate is expected to take up a tax bill Friday which, if it passes, could bring the 2015 legislative session to a close on its record-setting 113th day. But the bill falls far short of actually balancing the state budget, analysts say.
The House, after working through the night and into the early hours of the morning, finally passed the Senate's tax plan, along with a "trailer" bill that changes some parts of the Senate bill.
That complicated procedure was necessary because Senate Republican leaders have refused to put a second tax bill on the floor.
Combined, the two bills would raise the state sales tax to 6.5 percent and they would slow down scheduled cuts in individual income tax rates. They also include a 50-cent per pack increase in cigarette taxes and a variety of other measures expected to generate $384.4 million in the upcoming fiscal year.
Even with that, House Taxation Committee chairman Marvin Kleeb of Overland Park said, Gov. Sam Brownback would have to cut $30-$50 million out of the budget that passed earlier this month.
But some lawmakers say the cuts will have to be worse than that because they seriously doubt estimates of how much money certain provisions will actually bring in. Among them are:
• A tax amnesty program that would waive interest and penalties for taxpayers who pay up their past-due tax accounts. That's supposed to bring in $30 million next year. But critics say unless the Department of Revenue hires more staff and devotes resources to collecting on those accounts, the amnesty program is likely to fall short.
• A tax on "guaranteed payments" to business partners — a contractual arrangement where partners are guaranteed certain payments regardless of the profit or loss of the business — is expected to bring in $23.7 million. But critics say it would be easy for those businesses to reorganize their structure or change the contracts in order to shield those payments from state taxes.
• And the increase in sales tax, which the bill would make effective July 1, is projected to bring in $164 million. By law, however, retailers are entitled to 30 days notice before sales tax rates can change. And because the session has dragged into the middle of June, Senate tax committee chairman Les Donovan of Wichita said, retailers aren't legally obligated to charge the tax starting July 1, although he believes many will.
Meanwhile, internet and mail order retailers may not be obligated to charge the tax until Oct. 1 because, under a multi-state "streamlined sales tax" agreement, not only do states have to give 30 days notice, they also are only supposed to change tax rates on the first day of a calendar quarter.
The Senate is expected to start debating the second bill at 2 p.m. Friday. If it passes, both the underlying tax bill and the "trailer" bill will go to the governor and lawmakers will adjourn.
But if it fails to pass the Senate — and Donovan says some Senate Republicans will have serious concerns about it — the tax and budget debate will go back to square one.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback made an impassioned plea Thursday for House and Senate Republicans to reach agreement on a plan to balance the budget before his administration will be forced to take drastic actions.
Those range from vetoing the budget bill lawmakers have already passed, which would force at least a partial shutdown of state government starting July 1; using his line-item veto authority to strike $350 million to $400 million out of the budget; or signing the budget and waiting until July 1 to make allotment cuts to bring the budget into balance.
"We're at Thursday. By Monday you have to come up with something, or then I have to start executing one of these options I have in front of me," Brownback said during a rare joint caucus meeting of House and Senate Republicans. "So you don't have a whole ton of time here to negotiate through a bunch of different policy options in front of you."
The House and Senate so far have been unable to agree on a revenue package to raise the roughly $400 million needed to fund the budget. The House debated long into the night Wednesday, carrying over into Thursday morning, before defeating a Senate-passed plan.
Secretary of Administration Jim Clark said earlier in the meeting that his agency needs at least two weeks to re-program state computer systems with information based on the new budget.
Further, both he and Budget Director Shawn Sullivan warned that without a balanced budget in place, credit rating agencies will almost certainly downgrade the state's bond rating, which would likely raise interest rates on bonds the state plans to issue in the new fiscal year.
Those include $312 million for Regents universities, $750 million for the Kansas Department of Transportation and $1 billion in pension obligation bonds to shore up the troubled Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.
Brownback said he cannot issue line-item vetoes for anything in the K-12 education budget or the judiciary budget because those were passed and approved separately earlier in the session.
He said the amount of money he would need to cut would be roughly equal to the combined state funding for all six Regents universities.
House and Senate tax negotiators were scheduled to meet again at 7 p.m. One possibility being discussed is for the House to reconsider its action on the tax bill it defeated earlier in the day. But some lawmakers want the conference committee to submit a different plan, possibly including a tax on business income that is currently exempt from state taxes.
Several key Kansas lawmakers were clearly frustrated Thursday morning after the House defeated a $403 million tax bill to balance the budget, and some said openly they don't know what to do next.
Among them was Rep. Mark Hutton, R-Wichita, who was among a minority of House members voting for the tax bill until the very end, even though he strongly opposed its policy of raising income taxes instead of business taxes.
The final vote in the House was 21-94. The 10 members who were absent, but who presumably were being contacted to return and cast a vote, never showed up.
All four House members from Lawrence voted against the bill: Democratic Reps. Barbara Ballard; Boog Highberger and John Wilson; and Republican Rep. Tom Sloan.
The 10 absent members were: Reps. Carolyn Bridges (D-Wichita); Sydney Carlin (D-Manhattan); J.R. Claeys (R-Salina); Mario Goico (R-Wichita); Amanda Grosserode (R-Lenexa); Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee); Roderick Houston (D-Wichita); Mike Kiegerl (R-Olathe); Annie Tietze (D-Topeka); and Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield).
"Our group stood in the gap, trying to prevent a financial calamity for this state," Hutton said after the House vote. "The rest of this House stood down. The Democrats, the moderates and the hard-core conservatives all stood down while we stood for Kansas."
Hutton has been a leader among the group of Republicans who have wanted to re-impose some level of income tax on more than 330,000 business owners whose profits from business operations have been exempt from income tax since 2012. But Hutton said he has given up trying to convince Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to accept such a tax plan.
"I've talked to him (Brownback) till I'm blue in the face," Hutton said. "It's not going to be me anymore. He's heard from me. I don't know who that is that he's going to listen to, because I can tell you, everybody else has told him the same thing, and he won't move."
The House held the roll open on the Senate's tax bill more than two hours Wednesday night. The chamber then had to break for the night because of a new rule that prohibits the House from meeting between midnight and 8 a.m. They resumed Thursday morning, with the roll still open, but finally broke around 10:15 a.m., long after it had become clear there were not enough votes in the House to pass the bill.
Senate tax committee chairman Les Donovan, also of Wichita, was disappointed when he heard the news.
"Well, it looks like the obstructionists, if you want to call them that, had their way, it looks like," Donovan said. "That's a shame."
"The problem is, they (the House) don't have a clear-cut on what they want to do, it doesn't look like," he said. "They've got so many people that want to go one way, and so many people that want to go the other way."
Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, told Donovan it may be time for the Senate to vote on a tax plan that Donovan proposed several days ago, but which never made it to the Senate floor. It would raise about $200 million in new revenue through cigarette taxes and a few other noncontroversial measures. That would leave it to Brownback to make additional cuts to balance the budget.
But Senate Vice President Jeff King of Independence said late Wednesday night that he believes the Legislature has a duty to pass a balanced budget plan.
"I think there are dire consequences that none of us want to see happen if we aren’t able to get a tax plan approved this month, and hopefully in the very, very near future," King said.
"If we are unable to find a solution, if the House is unable to pass this measure (Thursday), and unable to find another solution, then the governor would have to choose between allotments, line-item vetoes and special sessions," King said.
The House was tentatively scheduled to come back into session around 2 p.m. Another tax conference committee meeting was tentatively set for 6 p.m.
House tax committee chairman Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park said he would try in the meantime to survey House members to see which direction they want to go.
Republican leaders in the Kansas House offered their "trailer bill" proposal Wednesday afternoon that could pave the way for lawmakers to end the 2015 session. But the process of getting both bills through the House, and then getting the trailer bill through the Senate, could be difficult.
House Taxation Committee chairman Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, outlined the proposal in a conference committee meeting Wednesday afternoon.
The trailer bill would clean up, or completely undo, many of the add-on policies that the Senate put into its tax bill. Specifically, it would:
• Continue the food sales tax credit program in which low-income, elderly and disabled individuals can get an income tax credit equal to a portion of the sales tax they paid on food during the year. The Senate bill called for eliminating that program.
• Establish a commission to review various tax exemptions and credits and make recommendations to the Legislature next year about which ones to keep and which to repeal, a clarify which exemptions are eligible for repeal and which are not. In particular, the commission would not review imposing sales taxes on motor fuels, or items purchased by non-profit hospitals, blood banks or schools.
• Clarify language about a property tax lid on cities and counties, providing a number of exceptions under which those local governments could increase property tax revenue beyond the rate of inflation without having to seek a public vote. One area still hazy in the plan would be instances when property tax revenues grow due to new construction and population growth. Kleeb would only say the bill gives "flexibility" in that area, but did not define that further.
• And modify language in the Senate's bill regarding private school scholarships that pay for low-income students in public schools to transfer to private or parochial schools.
Getting that bill through both chambers could be a difficult task, however. Kleeb outlined the following steps that would need to take place.
First, the House must vote on and pass the Senate's tax plan. If it passes, the House will hang on to that bill - i.e., not send it to the governor - until all the other steps are completed.
Second, the House would vote on the trailer bill. If it fails, the House would vote to reconsider its action on the underlying "mega-bill" and go back to the drawing table to come up with a new plan. But if it passes, the House would send the trailer bill over to the Senate.
If the Senate fails to pass the trailer bill, then again, the House would reconsider its passage of the underlying bill. But if the Senate passes the trailer bill, both would go to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who has indicated he would sign them.
Another complicating factor is that many of the items in the trailer bill would repeal or scale back positions that were popular with conservatives in both chambers. So leaders may need to rely on Democrats and moderate Republicans to support the trailer bill.
Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, the ranking minority member on the House tax panel, said it is possible that some Democrats could vote for the trailer bill because it improves the underlying bill. But he would give no guaranty until House members see the exact language of the bill.
Sawyer said it is a certainty that no Democrats will vote for the underlying Senate bill.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is urging the Kansas House to pass the Senate's tax bill, along with any "trailer" bill that's needed to clean up provisions that many House members find objectionable.
"At this point in time, they just need to get something done, get it across the line, work the bill, and then whatever they have to do, need to do, to clean things up," Brownback told reporters during an impromptu news conference outside the House chamber. "It just needs to happen. Now’s the time."
Republican leaders are said to be working with individual groups of legislators to find out what needs to be in a trailer bill to make the whole package acceptable.
Many House members want to remove portions of the Senate bill that call for imposing a property tax lid on cities and counties, and sunsetting a whole host of sales tax exemptions, property tax exemptions and income tax credits.
But a large number of House members, including Democrats and moderate Republicans, are said to be holding out for putting some kind of income tax — either 1 percent, or possibly 2.7 percent — back onto the business profits of certain types of farm and other business organizations.
Brownback would not say what he would do if a trailer bill included reimposing taxes on business income.
"What they need to do now, in my estimation, they need to just take up the Senate bill and then deal with what they need to in the trailer bill," he said. "That’s the route forward. It’s there, it’s doable. And I would urge all of them, everybody — both parties, all factions — to do that and move forward."
Republican leaders in the Kansas House are trying to devise a way to pass the Senate's tax plan, but follow it up with a so-called "trailer" bill that would remove a number of tax policies that many House members find objectionable.
If successful, that could pave the way for closing the 2015 session, which is now in its record-setting 111th day.
The Senate's tax plan relies heavily on increased sales and cigarette taxes — but no tax on the now-exempt business income of more than 330,000 business owners — to raise about $423 million in revenue to balance next year's budget.
In order to get that through the Senate, though, a number of other policy pieces attractive to conservatives had to be added onto the bill, most of which were never discussed in committee hearings or on the floor of either chamber before they wound up in a conference committee report.
Those include a kind of property tax lid for cities and counties; putting a sunset on a whole host of income tax credits and sales and property tax exemptions; and an expanded voucher program to fund scholarships for public school students to attend private and parochial schools.
House tax committee chairman Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, is said to be working behind the scenes, trying to figure out what needs to go into a trailer bill in order to make the base bill palatable to House members. But there is also a large amount of distrust between the two chambers, and between differing factions within those chambers. As a result, there is reluctance in both chambers to vote on anything without an iron-clad guarantee that the other side will hold up its end of the bargain.
"The thing you learn in politics is, you want to make sure that you have the ability to hold your position before you give the keys to the car to somebody else," House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey of Louisburg said. "We're going to make sure that we get what our members want, and then negotiate from there."
It was expected that Kleeb would unveil a new House proposal during a 1 p.m. conference committee meeting, but that was postponed until 3 p.m. It was at least the fourth consecutive postponement of a conference committee meeting in the last two days.
Republican leaders in the Kansas Senate are growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress on a tax bill to balance the state's budget, and talk about letting Republican Gov. Sam Brownback do it himself through "allotment" cuts is growing stronger.
The Associated Press reported Monday night that Brownback's budget director Shawn Sullivan was in a private meeting with a handful of legislators, briefing them on what those allotment cuts would look like.
Both chambers have passed budget bills and sent them to the governor's desk. Combined, those three bills — for K-12 education, the judiciary and the rest of state government — call for spending about $360 million more than the state expects to receive.
Sunday night, the Senate passed a massive tax package to raise about $423 million in new revenue. But that bill hit a brick wall in the House. Conservatives didn't like that it dramatically slows down the "march to zero" on income taxes; moderates didn't like the fact that it does not re-impose income taxes on more than 330,000 business owners.
And almost everybody in the House was skeptical of various other policy provisions such as imposing a property tax lid on cities and counties, putting a four-year sunset on a huge host of tax credit and exemption programs, and expanding a type of private school voucher program that was enacted last year.
A tax conference committee was scheduled to meet again at 4 p.m. But Senate Republican Leader Terry Bruce of Hutchinson told reporters that the Senate has no intention of voting on another tax package. He said passing the first one was difficult enough, and the Senate thinks it's time for the House to state what its position is on taxes.
House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey of Louisburg said leaders there were still talking with small groups of House members, trying to discern what kind of bill they can accept. He said Brownback had been involved in some of those meetings.
One possibility being considered is to let Brownback sign the final budget bill, knowing that on July 1, when the new fiscal year begins, he will immediately begin cutting at least $360 million or so in order to bring spending in balance with current revenue projections.
A second option reportedly on the table would have the House pass the controversial Senate plan, and then follow that up with a "trailer" bill that would undo some of the more objectionable provisions.
The full House and Senate are scheduled to meet again at 2 p.m. Tuesday, which marks the 110th day of what was supposed to be a 90-day session, making 2015 the longest legislative session in Kansas history.
The fate of the $423 million tax bill that the Kansas Senate passed Sunday night was very much in doubt in the House Monday afternoon.
The House postponed debate on the bill until around 6 p.m., giving both party caucuses about four hours to look over the complex package of tax measures and other policy issues.
The package passed by the Senate Sunday night relies mainly on increased sales and cigarette taxes, along with cuts in itemized income tax deductions, to raise the money needed to balance the state's budget. But it also contains a number of other policy measures aimed at attracting conservative legislators to vote for the bill.
Members of both parties in the House complained that the bill itself, which is reportedly more than 600 pages long, still has not been made available, either in print or online. The summary of the bill, known as a "conference committee report," runs 119 pages.
House tax committee chairman Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, said many Republicans mainly object to the additional policy measures added onto the bill, such as imposing a property tax lid on cities and counties, and putting a sunset on a wide range of tax exemptions and credits. But he said there are also Republicans who object to the fact that it does not include an income tax on non-wage business income, something Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has threatened to veto.
Conservative groups such as the Kansas Chamber and Americans for Prosperity have been lobbying behind the scenes, trying to convince conservatives to vote no on what would be the largest tax increase in state history.
Meanwhile, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, told reporters Monday that senators are growing impatient because the House has not yet passed any comprehensive tax bill. She said if the Senate's bill fails in the House, then the House needs to show what kind of tax plan it will pass.
And if the House doesn't do that, Wagle left open the possibility that the Senate could adjourn and go home.
Asked if there was a "Plan B" on the table, Wagle said: "Yes. Allotments."
That's a process whereby the governor could simply order cuts in the budget to make it balance with projected revenues. The current gap between approved spending and projected revenues is currently estimated at about $360 million.
The budget gap had been at about $406 million, but lawmakers over the weekend approved a $47.8 million tax on certain kinds of health insurance policies, which will be used to draw down increased federal Medicaid reimbursements.
Sen. Les Donovan returned to his seat as chairman of the Senate tax committee Sunday, saying his threat the previous night to resign was merely "venting."
A House-Senate conference committee met briefly Sunday afternoon, hoping to come again to come up with a combination of tax provisions that that would balance the budget and pass both chambers.
"I was unhappy," Donovan, R-Wichita, said afterwards.
Saturday afternoon, the conference committee had agreed to send a plan to the chambers that would have filled only about half of the state's estimated $400 million revenue shortfall. It included several minor items that were believed to be acceptable in both chambers: an increase in cigarette taxes; cuts in itemized deductions; and a tax amnesty program that some believe — although many doubt — could raise $30 million next year.
But there were no big changes in the two major revenue sources that stir the most controversy, sales and income taxes.
It wasn't entirely clear what leaders had planned to happen next: either try to work on a sales tax or income tax provision separately; or pass a new budget that would cut the other $200 million or so out of spending.
Donovan said he felt confident that the scaled-back tax package would pass. But in the hours after the conference committee approved it, Donovan said, other senators started meeting in small groups to come up with their own plans, some of which had never been the subject of hearings before. And all of those new plans were being developed without anyone consulting him.
By the time the Senate convened later Saturday night, leaders had decided not to vote on the conference plan. Donovan then gave an angry speech chastising other senators and announcing that he was stepping down as tax chairman.
"Madam President, I want you to find another tax chair, and I want you to do it now," he said, speaking directly to Senate President Susan Wagle, a fellow Wichita Republican.
Later that night, he did attend a hastily called conference meeting. There, the committee agreed to meet again Sunday to consider a different proposal from the House.
That proposal was a slightly different mixture of many of the same tax pieces that have been considered before: an increase in sales tax, coupled with a decrease in the tax on food; cigarette taxes and a few other items. But it does not include any taxes on non-wage business income.
Gov. Sam Brownback on Saturday evening signed a bill aimed at preventing more than 24,000 state employees from being furloughed at midnight.
After at first declining to hear the bill, the Kansas Senate voted Saturday to pass and send the measure to Brownback.
The bill, which passed unanimously, declares that all state employees will be considered "essential" for purposes of selecting those to be furloughed through the end of the legislative session.
Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said the bill authorizes employees to work through the end of the fiscal year on June 30, but does not actually authorize payment for their salaries and wages due to be paid on July 2.
Still, supporters of the bill said that gives lawmakers until June 30 to adopt a balanced budget that would contain the spending authority needed to write those paychecks.
Saturday marked the 107th day of the session, tying a record set in 2002 for the longest legislative session in state history.
The vote to pass the furlough prevention bill came just moments after the Senate defeated, on a 5-34 vote, another tax bill to raise more than $400 million in new revenues and balance the next fiscal year's budget.
The House was expected to take up a different budget bill later in the afternoon.
The Kansas House voted unanimously Saturday to pass a bill that would prevent furloughs from going into effect at midnight, but Senate President Susan Wagle said she may not bring it up for a vote.
"Our goal is to pass a balanced budget and a balanced tax plan," Wagle, a Wichita Republican, told reporters afterward. "And we’re going to keep trying to get there. We’re going to keep trying to build 21 (votes in the Senate) and 63 (votes in the House). That’s the best way to resolve the issue. If that doesn’t work, we will pass a budget."
"We’ve consulted with some attorneys," she continued. "We don’t think that making the nonessential employees essential, we don’t think that resolves it. We think that we need a budget."
More than 24,000 "nonessential" state employees, including 5,270 at Kansas University's Lawrence and Edwards campuses, received furlough notices Friday, telling them not to report to work from Sunday on if lawmakers have not approved a balanced budget by that time.
The bill passed by the House would declare all state employees "essential" for purposes of furloughs through the formal end of the 2015 session, a date known as "sine die," which typically comes several days after the House and Senate conclude their work.
Sunday marks the start of a two-week pay period for which paychecks would be issued July 2, after the start of the next fiscal year.
So far, the House has passed a budget bill that is awaiting Senate action. But it requires about $400 million in additional revenue to balance. And neither chamber has yet been able to pass a tax plan to raise that much revenue.
A tax conference committee met Saturday morning and agreed that both chambers would work simultaneously in the afternoon on different tax plans.
Meanwhile, if no tax agreement is reached, the Senate has an alternative budget bill that would make a 5.7 percent across-the-board cut in state spending, including K-12 education.
Asked if that was the bill she intended to put forward if no tax agreement is reached, Wagle said: "I’ll see what my senators are willing to pass at that point in time."
Wagle reiterated later that her goal is to avoid furloughs. But based on legal advice she and others have received, she does not think the bill declaring all state employees as "essential" accomplishes that goal.
Kansas lawmakers will spend part of Saturday debating a tax bill that includes a property tax lid on cities and counties, and an expanded type of voucher program that gives individuals and businesses a 70 percent tax credit for contributing to scholarship funds for private and parochial schools.
Lawmakers are still trying to find a way to close a projected $400 million revenue shortfall in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. On Friday, furlough notices went out to more than 24,000 "nonessential" state employees because paychecks for the new two-week pay period beginning Sunday will be issued after July 1.
The House and Senate are expected to debate another bill Saturday that would prevent those furloughs by classifying all state employees as essential.
Technical problems with language about the scholarship program forced the Senate to suspend debate on the bill shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday. It wasn't clear what the technical concerns were that caused GOP leaders to suspend the debate. But some lawmakers had raised constitutional concerns because, as written, it would let donors contribute directly to the private schools, instead of a scholarship fund that would be disbursed to students and their families.
Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, questioned whether that language would allow the funds to subsidize the cost of students who are already attending private schools. The program, enacted just last year, was intended to fund scholarships for low-income students currently attending public schools.
The bill also contains a provision that House negotiators initially refused to go along with. It would require cities and counties to get voter approval before they could increase property tax revenues from one year to the next by more than the rate of inflation.
Without a public vote, cities and counties would be limited in how much they could raise in property taxes. That would apply even in communities where population growth and new construction are generating new revenues.
That provision was added to a Senate tax bill last week by Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg. It had never been introduced as a bill before and was never the subject of legislative hearings.
Under the plan now being considered, the tax lid would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2018.
The bill also calls for raising the state sales tax by four-tenths of a cent, to 6.55 percent, while lowering the rate on food purchases to 5.9 percent. It would also eliminate the popular food sales tax credit program, which allows low-income elderly and disabled tax filers to receive a tax credit based on a percentage of the money they spent on food sales tax.
It would also eliminate or reduce many itemized deductions currently allowed on individual income tax filings.
Property tax lid re-emerges in third tax proposal
Kansas lawmakers plan to vote sometime after midnight Friday on a budget-balancing bill that would include a kind of property tax lid for city and county governments.
That idea, which emerged as a surprise in the Senate earlier in the week, would require cities and counties to hold a public vote before they could increase property tax collections above the rate of inflation from one year to the next. That would apply even if the increased revenue is attributable to growth and new construction.
The House, however, has been leery of the idea. So under the latest plan, it would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2018.
The latest negotiated deal also includes higher sales taxes, but no new taxes on non-wage business income. It also would freeze current income tax rates in place for all other tax filers until 2020 while repealing many itemized deductions.
House and Senate negotiators agreed around 8 p.m. to run that plan, starting this time with the Senate.
The previous two tax plans started in the House, and both were defeated by overwhelming margins.
Lawmakers have until Saturday night to come up with a plan to balance the budget. If not, thousands of state employees will be furloughed starting Sunday.
House defeats second tax bill
The Kansas House just voted down the second budget-balancing bill in as many days. The vote shortly before 5 p.m. brought the state to within 31 hours of having to furlough thousands of state employees.
The bill was defeated on a vote of 27-82. Lawrence Democratic Reps. Barbara Ballard, Boog Highberger and John Wilson all voted no. Republican Tom Sloan of Lawrence was absent.
A few Democrats had initially indicated they might vote for it because it contained provisions they had advocated throughout the session: reimposing some income tax on non-wage pass through income of business owners; and a lower sales tax on food purchases. But it also called for raising the state sales tax by three-tenths of a cent, to 6.45 percent.
In the end, Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, the ranking Democrat on the House tax committee, said the bill was a step in the right direction, but "it doesn't go far enough."
Republicans were sharply divided on the bill because it appeared to reverse course on the tax policy they adopted in 2012 that eliminated taxes for more than 330,000 business owners and called for phasing out all income taxes over several years.
House and Senate tax negotiators are scheduled to meet again at 6 p.m. to come up with another plan.
Some lawmakers are hoping to work through the night, if necessary, to come up with a plan to avoid furloughs. The House implemented a new rule this year that says it cannot meet after midnight, but the House voted to suspend that rule for tonight.
Second tax plan aimed at drawing Democrats and moderate Republicans
House and Senate tax negotiators offered up another tax plan aimed at balancing the state's budget and avoiding furloughs, and it's one clearly aimed at attracting votes from Democrats and moderate Republicans.
The conference committee met around 11 a.m., shortly before thousands of state employees received notices that they will be furloughed without pay starting Sunday unless lawmakers can pass a balanced budget before then.
The bill would impose income taxes, albeit at the lowest rate of 2.7 percent, on non-wage, pass-through business income for more than 330,000 business owners in Kansas. And it would repeal the formula known as the "march to zero" that is intended to phase out all income taxes over the next several years.
It would also raise the state sales tax rate to 6.45 percent, an increase of three tenths of a cent, effective July 1. But it would lower the sales tax rate on food to 5.7 percent starting Jan. 1. Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, put that amendment onto the original Senate bill, and it drew strong bipartisan support on two recorded votes.
The bill has a number of other lesser provisions such as removing the sunset on the "Rural Opportunity Zone," or ROZ, program that allows either a five-year income tax waiver or $15,000 of student loan repayment for people who move into any of the 77 rural counties that have suffered severe population loss in recent years.
It also has a 50-cent-per-pack increase in cigarette taxes, which many public health advocates support. But it would not, as the Senate had hoped, impose any new tax on e-cigarettes, based on the belief, not yet backed by data, that e-cigarettes are less hazardous to a person's health than regular cigarettes.
Both Democrats on the conference committee, Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City and Rep. Tom Sawyer of Wichita, are still not agreeing to sign the report, which means the House and Senate have to go through another procedural hoop before they can vote on it. But Sawyer called this latest bill, "a step in the right direction."
"We'll take it back to our caucus and discuss it," Sawyer said. "It's not what we want maybe at this point in time, but at least it's heading the right way."
The House will vote first on the bill, probably sometime after 2 p.m.
Websites poke fun at legislative stalemate
As the Kansas Legislature goes into Day 106 of its regular 90-day session, and the threat of furloughs for tens of thousands of state employees looms less than 48 hours away, web denizens in Kansas haven't lost their sense of humor.
One website popped up this week that probably offers the most accurate, concise and understandable summary of the current status of the stalemate. The name of the site says it all: www.DoesKansasHaveABudgetYet.com. Check it out for yourself.
Another site, with a bit more partisan edge to it, asks readers to nominate candidates for its mock "Stupid Tuesday Primary" in August.
An email to news media outlets promoting the site, ItsTimeToFixStupidKS.com, came from R. J. Dickens, who formerly served on the Kansas Democratic State Committee and was the party's nominee for Secretary of State in 1990.
Dickens, who lives in the Wichita area, told the Journal-World the website was started by a group of Facebook friends, most of whom have been involved in Democratic politics in the past. He said the point of the website is to raise money that will fund negative advertising against "incumbent idiots" in the 2016 campaign. The online "Stupid Tuesday Primary," which runs in August, will identify the targets of that advertising.
So far, all of the candidates nominated have been Republicans, but Dickens said his group isn't necessarily limiting itself. He also said all of the negative advertising will have a humorous tone.
"We can't keep crying about what's happening in Topeka. Let's laugh along with the rest of the world (yes, the whole world is laughing at us)," the website proclaims.
Coverage from Thursday, Day 105
House and Senate tax negotiators reached agreement Thursday on the first — and what many hope will be the last — revenue package to close the state's $400 million budget gap.
The bill will go first to the House, where leaders hope to schedule a vote sometime Thursday evening.
It would raise the state sales tax rate half a cent, to 6.65 percent, while lowering the tax rate on food to 5.9 percent. That's expected to generate $214 million next year.
The bill would not reimpose income taxes on non-wage, pass through income of business owners, something Republican Gov. Sam Brownback had threatened to veto. But it would tax what are called "guaranteed payments" that some business partnerships pay to executives.
Other items include freezing income tax rates for everyone else through 2018, and repealing the formula known as the "march to zero" that was intended to phase out income taxes altogether over the next several years.
The income tax portions of the bill are estimated to generate $145.7 million.
Combined with several other items, the package is estimated to generate $432.1 million next year. It also assumes lawmakers will pass another bill imposing a privilege fee on certain kinds of insurance policies, the revenues for which would be used to draw down more federal Medicaid funding.
Lawmakers are now in the 105th day of the session. They must pass a budget and tax plan before midnight Saturday to avoid furloughing thousands of state workers on Sunday.
Consumers in Kansas would pay less sales tax on food purchases starting next year, under a tax amendment that Democratic Sen. Marci Francisco of Lawrence added to a bill Tuesday night.
But whether or not that amendment survives during negotiations with the House remains an open question.
Francisco offered her amendment at the end of another lengthy debate over tax policy in the Senate. For the previous three days, Republican leaders in the Senate had tried to cobble together a $400 million-plus tax package to close the projected budget gap for the upcoming fiscal year before the state has to start sending out furlough notices next week to potentially thousands of state employees.
Several times, Republicans offered up amendments that included entire packages of tax proposals, some of which would be more popular than others. Each time, Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley would divide the motion, forcing roll call votes on each individual piece.
As a result, only the popular items passed, including the reduction in food sales tax, and an income tax exemption for about 388,000 low-income tax filers being among them. The other, less popular portions - raising the overall sales tax rate and raising cigarette taxes - all failed.
By Tuesday morning, the Senate had a bill that not only failed to close the budget gap, it actually made the gap wider. So GOP leaders agreed Tuesday to return to their original plan, one they had been forced to abandon last Friday, to strip out the Democrats' amendments and send a shell of a bill to conference committee where a handful of lawmakers could negotiate a package for straight up or down votes in each chamber.
But Democrats objected to that, arguing that Republicans were trying to abandon positions that a majority of senators had gone on record endorsing.
Thus, after stripping out the Democratic amendments of the last two days, Francisco offered a motion to put the reduction in food sales tax back on. Her motion passed on a roll call vote, 24-11.
The measure reduces the food sales tax rate to 5.7 percent, from 6.15 percent.
The Senate is expected to vote on final passage of the bill Wednesday. It will then be sent to the House, which is expected to request a conference committee.
Wednesday will mark the 104th day of the legislative session. Lawmakers have until Sunday, June 7, to pass a balanced budget before furlough notices are sent to non-essential state employees.
Threat of furloughs looms large as Kansas tax debate continues
The Kansas Senate on Monday shot down another tax proposal aimed at closing the state’s $400 million budget gap as the threat of having to furlough thousands of state employees looms on the horizon.
Sunday, June 7, marks the start of a new two-week pay period for state workers. Checks for that pay period will go out after July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. But without a budget, and a tax plan to fund it, state government will go into a partial shutdown in which all non-essential employees will be told to stay home.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s press secretary Eileen Hawley said Monday each state agency defines for itself which employees are considered “essential” and which ones are not. She said that’s based on what’s called a “Continuity of Operations Plan,” or COOP, that agencies have in place for events like severe blizzards or other kinds of emergencies.
Hawley estimated that the state currently employs about 35,000 people statewide. Among the largest groups of state workers are those employed at the six Regents universities, including Kansas University in Lawrence.
She said employees who are designated as essential can be ordered to report to work, even if there is not yet a budget in place to pay them.
Both the governor’s office and legislative leaders have said the possibility of mass furloughs happening next week is extremely remote.
The bill put forward Monday in the Senate had several elements — many of the elements that Brownback proposed during a news conference Saturday, including a higher overall sales tax rate, and an income tax exemption for an estimated 388,000 low-income tax filers.
But as they did Sunday night, Democrats divided the question, forcing senators to vote individually on each piece, starting with the more popular piece, exempting the low-income wage earners from income taxes.
But when senators had to vote just on the sales tax portion, it went down in defeat, 8-30.
It was a carefully orchestrated move by Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, who recalled how Democrats and moderate Republicans were attacked during the 2012 election cycle because they had voted for a temporary 1-cent sales tax increase in 2010.
Recalling a speech that Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, gave during the 2010 debate, Hensley said: “She talked about how a 1-cent sales tax increase would ruin the economy. It would be terrible for families. It was something that she was passionately opposed to. And at that time, our economy was far different than it is today. At that time, our economy was in a tremendous downturn.”
“Now with the economy far different, we're bbing asked to support an eight-tenths of a cent sales tax increase,” he said. “It’s not to fill in a revenue shortfall caused by downturn in the economy. It’s to fill in a shortfall that was caused by a failed economic experiment that’s been imposed on this state and this legislature. … And what I don’t understand is why we cannot acknowledge what the real problem is.”
Senate Republican Leader Terry Bruce, of Hutchinson, however, said the public supports the GOP tax policy of lowering income taxes, especially on businesses, and shifting the state toward more reliance on “consumption” taxes such as sales tax and excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol.
“We’ve since had two elections based on the higher consumption, lower income tax formula, and Republicans have been very successful in both those efforts,” he said. “And I think if we keep marching towards zero income tax, we’ll continue to have success at the polls.”
Brownback has told lawmakers that he will veto proposals that have been floated in the Legislature to reverse course on part of the 2012 tax plan by reimposing income taxes on the non-wage, “pass through” income of business owners. But even some Republicans have insisted that some kind of tax on non-wage income needs to be part of this year’s package.
“I really don’t give a damn what the governor thinks,” Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, said during a GOP caucus meeting Monday. “If the governor doesn’t want to admit we have a problem, let’s get out of here and let him solve it.”
Bruce, however, said it’s been hard enough finding the 21 votes needed in the Senate, and 63 in the House, simply to pass a tax measure.
“If the governor vetoes something, our numbers have to go up,” he said.
That’s because it takes 27 votes in the Senate, and 84 in the House, to override a veto.
The House, meanwhile, has not taken up a tax bill in several days while it waits to see what happens in the Senate.
Late last week, the House and Senate agreed to an unusual procedure by putting what was basically an empty shell of a tax bill into a conference committee, thus allowing a small group of lawmakers — the top two Republicans and one Democrat from each of the tax-writing committees — to negotiate a package that would be sent to the full chambers for straight up or down votes.
Two days after Republican leaders in the Legislature said they didn't want lengthy debates over tax bills, with recorded roll call votes on one amendment after another, the Kansas Senate is working Sunday night doing just that.
On Friday, both the House and Senate voted to send a tax bill that was little more than an empty shell into a conference committee so that a small group of legislators from each chamber could negotiate various combinations of tax increases, put them into the shell bill, and send them to the full chambers for straight up or down votes.
Instead, the Senate is now allowing full debate on the floor about the bill, allowing individual senators to bring forth proposals in the form of amendments, to see which ones can get the 21 votes needed for passage.
But a large number of rank-and-file lawmakers from both sides of the aisle complained about that process, arguing that major tax policy deserves full debate by both chambers.
Lawmakers need to come up with roughly $400 million in new revenues to balance the budget they are proposing for next year, and even more than that if they want to build in a cushion in case revenues don't come in as expected.
Sunday marked the 101st day of the 2015 session, making it among the longest sessions in modern history. The next fiscal year begins July 1, the point at which the state will officially run out of spending authority if lawmakers don't pass a balanced budget.