Entries from blogs tagged with “politics”
Quite a bit of fuss was made this week over a letter from House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs that some characterized as an apology over the way he handled the 2015 legislative session.
But Lawrence-area Democrats said they didn't take it that way, and a spokeswoman for Burroughs said it was certainly not meant as any kind of "mea culpa." Rather, they said, it was merely an attempt to get feedback about how the session went, and gather input about how members want to approach the 2016 session.
First, some context: Burroughs, who is from Kansas City, Kan., was in his first session as minority leader this year. He succeeded former Rep. Paul Davis of Lawrence who stepped down last year in an unsuccessful bid for governor. (Democrats also lost five seats in the House in that same election.) The session lasted a record-breaking 113 days, and to say that Democrats were steamrolled in it might be an understatement.
By the time it all ended, the Republican-dominated Legislature had done away with the K-12 school finance formula and replaced it with block grants that locked in funding cuts for the next two years. It also passed new restrictions on abortion, dramatic restrictions on how welfare recipients can spend their benefits, and a tax-and-spending package that raised sales taxes while preserving Gov. Sam Brownback's controversial policy of eliminating income taxes for business owners.
So it was in that context that Burroughs mailed out what some Democrats described as an apology letter, but others say was a fairly typical post-session, postmortem letter to rally the troops and gear up for the next battle.
After some obligatory courtesies and thank-yous, Burroughs turns to topic of the topic at hand:
" While it would be easy to focus on our successes, I believe it is through reflection on the challenges we faced that we can grow and improve both as individuals and as a caucus. As your leader, it is my goal to make decisions in the best interest of our caucus, the Democratic Party, and the State of Kansas. If at any point in time I fell short of your expectations, I am sorry. I commit to continued improvement and I welcome your feedback. There are far too many battles ahead to be complacent."
Now, a little more context: Burroughs won the leadership post in a contested race against Rep. Jim Ward of Wichita. And it's no secret that the two men have different political styles and different management styles. Ward is known for being more aggressive and confrontational in criticizing conservative Republican policies; Burroughs is considered more conciliatory, although no less committed to Democratic Party ideals. Both had served in the past as assistant minority leaders.
The story about Burroughs' letter first broke on the Wichita Eagle's website, which characterized it as an apology letter by reporting: "The top Democrat in the Kansas House has sent a letter to his caucus apologizing if he fell short of their expectations and requesting their feedback ahead of the next session."
Ward was quoted heavily in that story, as were other Wichita-area Democrats. That story was picked up by the Associated Press, and AP's version of it was carried in the Journal-World with the headline, 'Top Democrat in Kansas House apologizes to caucus.
There were times during the session when Ward and others wanted to order roll-call votes on various issues, and to offer amendments — particularly about Medicaid expansion — that would have forced conservative Republicans to put their names on a "no" vote. Such tactics, routinely practiced by members on all sides, are commonly known as "postcard votes" because they make easy fodder for election-year postcards.
Burroughs, however, generally resisted the temptation, believing such tactics only would have alienated moderate Republicans, whom Democrats often need as allies, even though in the current Legislature all the Democrats and all the moderate Republicans put together still don't form a working majority.
But the idea that Burroughs' letter was an "apology letter" was not universally shared among other Democrats, particularly those from Lawrence.
Rep. Barbara Ballard, for example, who serves as the Democrats' caucus chair (meaning she leads caucus meetings whenever they get together to discuss strategy) wasn't sure what was being referred to when asked if she'd received the "apology letter."
"I received a letter, but I wouldn't call it an apology letter," she said. She added that all of the decisions about how Democrats would respond to the Republican agenda were run through the entire leadership team.
Rep. John Wilson also said he was surprised by the characterization. "No, I didn't see it as an apology letter," he said in an email.
Rep. Boog Highberger, who was serving his first session in the Legislature (he succeeded Davis in the 46th District) also declined to call it an apology. "I think it was an acknowledgement that we didn't all agree on every single thing," he said.
But he also conceded that Democrats could have been more confrontational with conservatives, at least on some issues.
"i think we should have pushed harder for Medicaid expansion," he said. "We could have pressed harder on a number of issues. But I give the minority leader some credit. There's a learning curve on every job."
There are currently 16 declared candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, and Kansas GOP officials are sincerely wishing every last one of them the best of luck in the early primaries and caucuses.
That's because the more of them that stay in the race through Kansas' March 5 caucuses, the more money the Kansas GOP stands to make.
Kansas Republicans agreed at their midyear convention in Manhattan Saturday to charge candidates $15,000 each for the right to be on the caucus ballot.
Theoretically, all 16 are still in the race come March 5, something nobody really expects, that would generate $240,000 for the party. But even if there are five or six left, that's $75,000 to $90,000 flowing straight into the party's coffers, money it can use to promote the caucuses, beef up its voter databases and fund get-out-the-vote efforts.
It's one of the many significant differences between caucuses and primaries. If the state were to hold a primary election, candidates would either gather petition signatures or pay a fee to the state, which would go to offset the cost of holding an election.
But caucus systems are purely creatures of the parties themselves, and the parties are free, within certain limits, to set their own rules.
Kansas lawmakers this year repealed the statute that had called for the state to hold presidential primaries. It was a law that lawmakers routinely waived for the sake of budget savings. The last primary held here was in 1992.
Kansas Democrats, by contrast, have chosen not to go that route.
Kerry Gooch, the state party's new spokesman, said Democrats are charging only $1,000 for candidates to get on the caucus ballot.
Currently, there are only five Democrats actively seeking the nomination: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley; former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee; and former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia.
Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday named Sarah Shipman as his new secretary of administration, succeeding Jim Clark who retired earlier this month.
At the same time, he also expanded Budget Director Shawn Sullivan's role to include "identifying and implementing efficiencies across state government. Effective immediately, Sullivan’s title will be director of Budget and Business Processes, the governor's office said.
The Department of Administration is a powerful agency that often goes unnoticed. Besides managing the state's budget and spending on a day-to-day basis, it's also in charge of personnel management, purchasing, property management and the state's IT system.
Shipman has worked for the agency since 2011 and has been deputy secretary and chief counsel since 2014.
The expansion of Sullivan's role comes at a time when the state is facing increasing budget and cash-flow pressures in the wake of sweeping tax cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013. This year, amid a near-stalemate over cutting the budget and raising taxes, lawmakers passed a $6.4 billion spending plan while at the same time directing the administration to find $50 million in savings.
Brownback's press secretary, Eileen Hawley, said Sullivan's new role will be an ongoing function of that office, separate and apart from the directive to find $50 million in savings.
She said the administration expects to announce the $50 million in savings by the end of next week.
Having gotten a decent night's sleep after Tuesday's lengthy City Commission meeting, I now have to admit it's been kind of a treat the last couple of weeks pinch-hitting on the City Hall beat for our colleague (and now new boss) Chad Lawhorn.
Admittedly, though, that wasn't exactly what I was thinking at the time, when a debate over the placement of a cellphone tower in East Lawrence dragged on for about an hour and a half.
For political reporters, and probably just about everyone else, there is nothing quite so excruciating as a lengthy debate over zoning issues.
At their core, though, zoning battles are also one of the purest kinds of political conflict. And it's a type of conflict that doesn't often occur over here at the Statehouse, where debates often focus on abstract, ideological differences, and the real people who are affected by the decisions are rarely seen or heard from.
The legendary columnist Molly Ivins once described zoning battles as "the very guts of government, where we see the interests of one party come into conflict with the interests of another." I see them as clashes between two sacred, yet often diametrically opposing principles of the American government: individual rights vs. community rights.
Tuesday night, the battle was between the interests of Verizon Wireless, LLC, which wants to put up a 120-foot tower to improve its coverage in East Lawrence, and the owners of an adjoining parcel who worried that if the 120-foot tower ever fell down, it would crush their building, which houses Free State Brewing Company's bottling plant.
Also involved in the discussion were a number of neighborhood residents who simply don't want to look out their windows and see a giant cellphone tower. It's a viewpoint that highlights another contradiction in our political culture: the competing ideas of private property and public landscapes.
This battle in East Lawrence has been going on for a while. The first site Verizon proposed got rejected in December amid vehement opposition from nearby residents, resulting in a federal lawsuit. Although that lawsuit is still pending, Verizon came back in May to propose another site, on a largely undeveloped lot in an industrial area on Moodie Road.
The owner of that parcel, however, reportedly wants to keep future development options open, and so Verizon was asked to place the tower near a corner of the property, just a few feet from the north property line. Problem was, just on the other side of that property line sits a building that houses Free State Brewing Company's bottling plant.
So, while one property owner would enjoy all the benefits of rental income from the tower, the other property owner would bear substantial risk if the tower should ever fall down.
Here at the Kansas Statehouse, you hear a lot of impassioned debate about the sanctity of private property rights. In most cases, though, the debates are largely theoretical, and the contest is over which brand of governmental-powers ideology will win out.
The prevailing view in this building can be broadly described as "strong libertarian," something passed down in the state's political culture from the frontier days when Kansas was just a sparsely populated, agrarian state. The prevailing mindset is that government should not be in the business of telling individuals what they can or can't do with (or on) their own private property.
It's a belief system that works well out in farm country where someone's closest neighbor might live a mile or more down the road. There, if a man walks out of his house stark naked, toting a shotgun over his shoulder, just to go check his mail, the chances are slim that anyone will notice. And if he wants to put up a 100-foot windmill on his property and paint it an ugly color of pink, it's really nobody's business but his.
But rural libertarianism tends to run into problems in most urban communities, where walking naked in public and putting up ugly towers tend to upset the neighbors. Except maybe Topeka where the whole walking-naked-in-public issue is apparently still in kind of a gray area.
Urban communities tend to be governed by what might be called the Oliver Wendell Holmes theory of individual liberties: "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins."
That's the whole basis behind zoning laws, which exist for the expressed purpose of telling people what they can and can't do with their own property. Because in urban communities, what one person does with his or her own property can have a direct impact on the health and safety of others and the value of their property.
In the end, city commissioners struck what many hope will be a workable compromise: Verizon can put up its 120-foot tower somewhere on that piece of property. But it will have to be at least 130 feet away from the bottling plant, a distance that will still keep it largely out of view of most nearby residents.
It was an interesting experience Tuesday night covering the Lawrence City Commission, seeing firsthand how the politics and policies of state and local government intersect.
The big news in local government this time of year is putting together their budgets for the upcoming year. And much of what they're confronted with this year is a direct result of legislation passed at the Statehouse.
For local governments, there are two overriding issues driving their decisions on budgets and whether to raise local property taxes: a state mandate for them to contribute more toward their employees' retirement funds; and a looming property tax lid that, beginning in 2018, will generally prevent them from increasing property tax revenue beyond the rate of inflation.
In many cases, those two mandates are at odds with one another. In Lawrence, city officials say it's impossible to keep up with the rising cost of government — which they say includes offering competitive wages to their employees — without additional revenue. Elected commissioners, for their part, say they want to look for other solutions like tapping into special revenue funds or spending down reserves.
Over the long haul, however, the only other significant source of revenue cities and counties have is the local sales tax. So the big question is whether they can depend on growth in retail sales in their communities to fill in the gaps that can't be filled with property taxes.
And that's where state politics comes in. Because in Topeka, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the GOP-led Legislature have made a policy choice to slash income taxes, with an eye toward eliminating them altogether in the future, and to shift the state's reliance onto "consumption" taxes like retail sales, alcohol and tobacco. This year, they raised the state sales tax rate to 6.5 percent and added 50 cents a pack onto the cost of cigarettes.
Much of this is based on the economic theories of Arthur Laffer, the Reagan-era economist made famous for his theory known as the Laffer Curve. It basically says that in setting tax rates, particularly on income tax, there is a point of diminishing returns, where increasing the rates actually produces less revenue.
On paper, it looks simple. A zero percent tax rate would produce zero revenue. But so too would a 100 percent tax rate because there would no longer be an incentive to work for income if 100 percent of the income would be taken in taxes. At some point between zero and 100 percent, there is a "tipping point" of sorts that makes raising tax rates counterproductive.
This is the theory behind the idea now popular in Topeka that says cutting, or even eliminating, income taxes will spur economic growth. Because taxing income is a tax on productivity, and the more you tax it, the less of it you'll get.
The burning question now lurking in the back of people's minds at city halls and county courthouses across Kansas is whether the state, by shifting its own revenue flow away from income taxes, has now broached the Laffer Curve tipping point on sales taxes.
In parts of Lawrence, where consumers pay sales tax to the state, city, county and a special transportation development district, the combined sales tax rate is now just over 10 percent. The worry in some corners is that the combined rate may now be high enough that it will actually suppress consumer spending, or at least drive that spending toward some neighboring community where the tax rate is lower.
When it comes to groceries and eating out, economists say, consumers have a way of absorbing higher costs — eating chicken instead of beef; buying generic products instead of name brands; or hitting the drive-thru window instead of a sit-down restaurant — to keep their total food expenses in line.
But when it comes to big-ticket purchases like new furniture or appliances, computers, or even back-to-school shopping, consumers can easily be lured a few miles — or counties, or a state line — away if the savings can justify the travel expense.
Bryan Kidney, the city's finance director, said Tuesday that the proposed budget for next year is built on an assumption of 3 percent growth in sales tax revenues next year. But that estimate was made before the Legislature raised the state rate. He's not yet convinced that the higher sales tax rate will suppress consumer spending. He's never seen it happen yet, but says it's worth keeping an eye on.
But some on the City Commission, including Mayor Jeremy Farmer, say they are less sanguine about the prospects. "We don't know the answer to those questions. There's a lot of things that could negatively impact us," he said Tuesday night.
Interim city manager Diane Stoddard reported Tuesday that sales tax receipts from mid-February through mid-March were down about $33,000 from the same period last year, a reflection of lower-than-expected retail activity nationwide during that time. Key indicators of how the state's higher sales tax rate is affecting cities and counties will come later this year, during the back-to-school shopping season later this summer, and the holiday shopping season in November and December.
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.