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Under the Dome - May 14, 2013

Veto Session Day 5

Dragging on

What is the delay? The legislature returned to Topeka last Wednesday with the intent of finalizing the budget and tax bills, finishing up votes on a few remaining conference committee reports, and leaving by the 80th day.

Well, the 80th day is behind us and there is nothing happening on the budget or taxes unless you count some back-room secret meetings between the Governor and House and Senate Republican leadership.

Meanwhile, most legislators sit around their offices or hotel rooms waiting for something to happen and collecting pay. The Hutch News reported that each day of the veto session costs taxpayers about $34,800. They concluded, "Already, the tax plan is extracting a cost on Kansas taxpayers - to the tune of $30,000 every day the Legislature is idled as the governor and his allies try to force Kansans to take a dose of bad-tasting medicine for an illness that needn't exist." Read their editorial here.

Where did this mess come from?

This year's mess is a direct result of last year's recklessness and a tax plan that will continue to cripple Kansas for years to come.

The Governor's "glide path to zero" income tax plan has already so reduced state revenues that large budget cuts, a tax increase, and budget gimmickry are needed to just break even. The Governor knows this and that is why he has been crisscrossing the state calling on legislators to break a promise made to Kansans when the sales tax was raised several years ago.

The sales tax increased under Governor Parkinson during the great recession. It was needed to limit the massive budget cuts that would have been necessary to balance the budget during the most trying economic times since the great depression. At that time, Governor Parkinson and the legislature promised the people of Kansas that most of the tax would be temporary - a portion would remain to provide a permanent funding source for highway programs.

Many of the conservative Republicans in the Legislature who were there when the sales tax increase was passed, voted against it due to their adherence to a "no tax increase for any reason" philosophy. Many of the new Republicans in the legislature ran by attacking Democrats and Moderate Republicans for voting for the sales tax increase. Even the Governor attacked the sales tax increase in his campaign for office. And many of these folks also supported the Governor's massive income tax reductions last year.

Those income tax reductions have come home to roost. Both the House and Senate budgets cut post-secondary education deeply - the House by 4%, the Senate by 2%. Funds from one program are being raided to plug holes in other programs. And now, in order to stop cuts to higher education and prevent cuts to K-12 education and even deeper cuts to social services, the Governor needs money. Suddenly the Governor wants the Legislature to break the promise to Kansans and permanently increase the sales tax.

The Senate has already voted for the tax increase; the House hasn't and shows no signs of changing.

So here we are, wondering what's being said behind closed doors in negotiations not even being shared with the other members of the Legislature.

What options do Legislators have?

With the deep reductions in state revenue brought about by the Brownback income tax cuts of last year, the Legislature must find a way to fund state government from other sources. Since the constitution requires a balanced budget, lawmakers are left with only a few choices.

• They could raise the sales tax to cover the gap or raise it less while taxing more things.

• They could raise property taxes to cover the gap.

• They could cut state services to close the gap.

• They could do some of all three.

Of course, they could also enact a tax policy that is balanced, fair to individuals and businesses, and generates enough revenue to fund quality state services.

In and out again

The House convened at 2:00 this afternoon and, after adopting one Judiciary conference committee report, adjourned for the day by about 2:15. They will be back at 11:00 tomorrow morning. No committee meetings were announced.

The Senate convened at 2:30, advanced three non-controversial bills and adjourned by 3:09. They will reconvene tomorrow morning at 10:30 and again in the afternoon at 2:30.

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