Monthly Archives: May 2012

Judges might tear up legislators’ district maps and make their own

KANSAS CITY, KAN. – Federal judges deciding the fate of Kansas’ legislative districts sent strong signals today that they might jettison plans that didn’t make it through the Legislature and draw their own district maps.

On the second day of hearings in the Kansas City courthouse, the three-judge panel spent significant time pressing Corey Carnahan – the Legislature’s go-to guy on maps – for details of how redistricting is done and how they could take advantage of his services.

The hearings had begun Tuesday with Carnahan, an analyst in the Department of Legislative Services, giving the court a primer on the use of mapping software to develop legislative districts.

Today, the judges put him back in the witness box for a more lengthy and detailed tutorial on producing redistricting maps.

“Could you tell us how we could do that?” asked John Lungstrom, senior judge in the Kansas City federal district court. “How would we as the court do that?”

As to helping the judges draw maps, Carnahan said “That would be a request we could accommodate.”

State Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, told the judges they’d reached the point he was at when he embarked in map-making as chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee, the panel with primary responsibility for the Senate’s redistricting effort.

“I think the questions of the court just a few minutes ago are where I was at the start of the process,” Owens said. He said he had gone to Carnahan and asked him to draw up a fairly generic set of maps to get discussion started in the Legislature.

The Legislature is required once every 10 years to redraw congressional and state House, Senate and Board of Education district lines to account for population changes in the Census and ensure more-or-less equal representation across the state.

But the process broke down this year as warring conservative and moderate Republican factions pressed for maps favoring their candidates for election.

The conservatives, who already hold the House and the governor’s office, have targeted at least eight senators with primary challenges in an effort to take over the somewhat less conservative Senate.

A map called “For the People 13b,” that passed the House but was rejected in the Senate, heavily favors the conservative challengers.

Moderates pinned their hopes on a map called “Buffalo 30 Revised,” which cuts several potential challengers out of districts where they want to run. The Senate passed that map, but it didn’t make it through the House.

Lawyers and witnesses for both the conservative and moderate factions repeatedly accused each other of “gerrymandering,” a political term for drawing oddly shaped districts to help their political chances and/or damage opponents’ chances.

The judges appeared to be running short of patience after about 12 hours today and Tuesday listening to more than two dozen lawyers and politicians arguing that their map was the fairest in the land.

The judges limited closing arguments to five minutes and post-hearing briefs to 10 pages – down from the usual 30.

They also asked the attorneys to focus their arguments on the constitutionality of competing maps rather than issues such as which politicians might be favored or disfavored, or which cities were mistreated by a particular plan.

Lungstrom suggested the judges could ask Carnahan for maps based on the premise that “we really don’t care about the internal politics of legislators who have not passed maps.”

He also said he didn’t think the judges needed to give any legal deference to district maps that didn’t make it all the way through the process of passage in both legislative chambers and approval by the governor.

The judges did acknowledge that case law holds them to higher standards than are expected in the political tussle of drawing maps in the Legislature.

On congressional maps, lawmakers are required to minimize the population deviations between districts as much as possible. In all the congressional maps considered the Legislature, the population of the state’s four congressional districts varies by only one person.

On state districts, legislators can generally get to a “safe harbor” constitutionally as long as their maps are within plus or minus 5 percent of the optimum number of residents.

However, case law indicates that courts that make their own redistricting maps need get closer to even population across districts, the judges said.

There’s no exact percentage they have to reach, but Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the defendant on behalf of the state, told the judges that they’d clearly be constitutional if they keep population deviation to less than 1 percent plus or minus.

Of all the maps considered in the Legislature and the court case, only one, called Essex A, meets that standard.

The map is named for Robyn Renee Essex, a Johnson County Republican precinct committeewoman and the named plaintiff in the lawsuit that put redistricting in the hands of the court.

The Essex A map is a hastily produced variant on the conservatives’ For the People maps. It was introduced into court on Tuesday.

The actual origin of the map remains unclear, but Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, testified Tuesday that he got it from an aide to Gov. Sam Brownback.

King also testified that he had gotten the map analyzed by Legislative Research and rushed onto a state web site so it could be introduced at the trial.

Kevin Fowler, a lawyer representing Owens at the trial, called it “unsavory gamesmanship of the worst kind.”

A version of the map was contained in the original court complaint, but in a pretrial conference, Essex’s lawyers had said they were abandoning it, Fowler said.

Although it’s close to what they advocated in the For the People family of maps, the conservative advocates largely backed away from Essex A because of the questions over its origin and the fact that it had never been considered in the legislative process.

Brownback to sign state’s huge tax cut into law


TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback plans to sign one of the state’s largest income tax cuts in history into law at noon today in a ceremony at the Capitol.

But moderate Republicans and Democrats have urged the Governor not to sign the bill because it is projected to force the state to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in state spending, potentially reducing funding for education and other services used by thousands of Kansans.

The Governor’s signature would punctuate a wide-ranging debate about taxes in Kansas that dominated much of this year’s legislative session.

Kansans wage-earners could expect to send less money to their state government starting next year. The cuts collapse the state’s three tax brackets to two. Married couples filing jointly would pay 3 percent on their first $30,000 of income and 4.9 percent on earnings beyond that. And owners of limited liability companies, subchapter S corporations and sole proprietorships would no longer have to pay taxes on nonwage income.

The new law would increase the standard deduction for single head-of-household taxpayers from $4,500 to $9,000.

Lawmakers pressed throughout the past few months for a milder tax-cutting plan that wouldn’t force state government to cut spending so drastically, so fast. But many Republicans and Democrats rejected alternative proposals because they feared those plans would also force big cuts to state services.

The bill Brownback is poised to sign today took a strange path to his desk.

It stemmed from a proposal that Brownback outlined in his State of the State Address. But his proposal became politically unviable almost immediately because it proposed cutting many popular tax credits and exemptions, and it was projected to disproportionately hurt low-income Kansans while boosting cash flows for wealthier residents — particularly business owners.

When the Governor’s plan moved through a Senate panel, Senators voted to retain many of the credits and deductions Brownback wanted to cut. That drastically increased the cost of the plan.

Senators changed the bill even more when they debated it. Then they initially rejected the bill when they voted on it.

But Brownback’s administration pleaded with Senators to approve the bill so that House and Senate negotiators could work out a better plan. Some senators say Brownback said he wouldn’t sign it, and Senate leaders said they were sure the bill would never become law.

But when an alternative plan emerged after weeks of negotiations, House members heard the Senate would reject the bill and quickly concurred with the massive bill the Senate had passed. That sent it to the Governor, who said he would sign it, and his administration used it as leverage to press lawmakers to approve an alternative.

But the Senate never voted on an alternative, leaving Brownback, who made income tax cuts a cornerstone of his agenda, with only one tax-cutting option.

The bill is projected to force $242 million in cuts in 2014, and cause more than $2 billion in cuts over five years. Brownback’s administration, meanwhile, has said the cuts could generate 23,000 new jobs beyond natural growth by 2020.

Many are skeptical of that projection.




House approves $14.3 billion state budget; Senate to vote next

TOPEKA – After a swift half hour debate, the House approved the state’s $14.3 billion budget this afternoon. The 80-35 vote sets the stage for the Senate to vote on it and, after a few more bills move through, end the legislative session in its 99th day.

The budget adds $40 million in education funding, which is less than the Senate had sought. It didn’t include the property tax relief that many members wanted.

But the budget would leave the state with a 7.5 percent ending balance. Many suspect that could be eaten up by the massive income tax cut Gov. Sam Brownback is poised to sign this week.

Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton and the House’s chief budget negotiator, said that because the Senate wouldn’t accept a milder tax-cutting plan, the state has less to spend on education and other services.

He said the plan that the Senate declined to debate would have freed-up about $150 million more for education. Rhoades said, like Brownback, he expects the tax cut to help boost the economy and create jobs. But he said it might take a few years, and that trimmed the amount he was willing to spend this year.

The budget represents a .7 percent increase in state general fund spending, but it’s about a 3 percent drop in overall spending, largely because of reduced spending on unemployment as a result of an improving economy.

Overall, the bill authorizes 38,843 state employees – or about 307 less than last year’s budget.

Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, said the budget didn’t include enough property tax relief or funding for welfare programs to take care of the state’s neediest.

“We are operating like a business,” he said. “But sometimes the way business acts is not compassionate.”

Rhoades said the state has to address a wide variety of social services and has to spread that money to many agencies for mental health care, food for low-income residents and other services.

Republicans strongly backed the budget because it left an ending balance and generally held spending down.

“I think we have a good budget for the state,” Rhoades said.

It includes about $700,000 for the arts, which is now being reorganized as a creative industries commission. It also has about $1 million for Wichita’s aquifer recharge project that takes water from the Little Arkansas River, purifies it and pumps it into the Equus Beds aquifer for municipal water use.

The budget also includes $5 million to subsidize low-cost air service, mostly at Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport.

Lawmakers back in Statehouse this morning for budget vote

After negotiating budget details throughout the night Saturday, lawmakers will return to the Statehouse this morning to vote on a $14 billion state budget and try to work through a few more last-minute bills.

The state’s budget contains about $40 million in additional funding for schools, less than many lawmakers wanted but more than initial proposals by the House.

Meanwhile, some are trying to work through last minute legislation relating to esoteric segments of antitrust law.

Lawmakers expect today’s session, which begins at 10 a.m., to be the last of the year. It comes after a grueling 98 day session that highlighted the divide between moderate and conservative Republicans.

House and Senate leaders needed only to approve a state budget and new political boundaries during this year’s session. But their focus was trained on a wide-variety of issues, including income tax reductions, Medicaid reform and changes to the state’s pensions system.

Their failure to agree forced them to extend the usual 90-day session into a 99th day. House and Senate negotiators finally agreed on a budget at 11:30 Saturday evening, and leaders intend to leave their duty to draw new political boundaries once a decade up to the courts because of political infighting that has left the legislature unable to agree on a set of maps.


Brownback offers massive deal to end session; Senate rejects it

TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback offered the Senate a massive deal that would give the Senate the education funding and budget proposals it wants in exchange for a batch of redistricting maps, education policy changes and a tax-cutting bill that is more modest than the one sitting on the governor’s desk.

“The governor thought it was a fair compromise on all the important issues before the legislature,” said Brownback’s spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag

Senate President Steve Morris declined the plan. He said the Senate isn’t comfortable with the tax-cutting proposal because it could tank the state’s budget within a few years. Morris said the courts will likely decide how Kansas political boundaries are redrawn because lawmakers can’t agree on a map.

Brownback’s proposal would provide $77 million in additional education funding, an amount the Senate supports. But in exchange Brownback requested the Senate adopt several policy changes.

The proposal also would have required the Senate to approve a negotiated tax-cutting plan that would reduce individual income tax rates to 3 percent on the first $30,000 of income for married couples and 4.9 percent on earnings beyond that. The plan would have also phased out taxes on nonwage income of thousands of businesses. The proposal also included money for property tax relief.



Senators pitched last-minute tax cut alternative; Brownback said to be uninterested

TOPEKA — A group of four moderate Republican senators proposed a new tax-cutting proposal that aims to give Gov. Sam Brownback an alternative to the deficit-producing tax bill awaiting his signature. But Senate leaders said Brownback was not interested.

Sens. Terrie Huntington, Jeff Longbine, Vicki Schmidt and Pete Brundgardt crafted the plan and brought it to Brownback, according to three senators.

Huntington confirmed the effort. But she said the Governor “was not interested.”

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said the proposal was slightly more aggressive than an alternative he and other Senate leaders proposed earlier this week. That plan was quickly rejected by House tax negotiators.

Morris said the proposal would have cut rates to 3.1 percent on married couples’ first $30,000 of income and 5.65 percent for income beyond that. It would have eliminated nonwage income tax on the first $100,000 of profits made by limited liability companies, subchapter S corporations and sole proprietorships.

“That was turned down,” Morris said.

Morris said he doesn’t expect any more efforts to produce an alternative to the bill awaiting Brownback’s signature. And he urged Brownback to veto the bill.

Brownback has already said he will sign the massive income tax reduction bill, which reduces rates for individuals and eliminates taxes on nonwage income for about thousands of businesses large and small. But Brownback continues to signal that he would prefer a compromise that phases the cuts in to ease the impact on the state’s budget.

Earlier this week, House negotiators quickly rejected three tax cut bills proposed by Senate leaders.

The plan awaiting Brownback’s signature would create deficits within a year of its implementation, and those projected deficits would grow into the hundreds of millions, forcing the state to drastically cut services unless the tax cuts produce an economic boom.

Brownback’s administration projects the tax cuts could create 23,000 new jobs on top of natural growth by 2020. But Democrats and moderate Republicans doubt those projections will be realized, and they say Kansans want property tax reduction more than income tax cuts.

The Senate balked at two other negotiated plans that would not produce deficits as large as the bill on Brownback’s desk. They’ve said that’s because even those cuts are projected to produce deficits according to analysis that does not include projected savings from the Governor’s Medicaid overhaul.

Check back for updates.

Brownback says negotiated tax plan would have been better

Brownback after rallying House Republicans this morningTOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback advocated for weeks for the House and Senate to approve a phased-in set of income tax cuts, but instead he got a package that drops rates for individuals immediately and eliminates the tax on nonwage income for thousands of businesses.

Today, he rallied House Republicans and later said that he thought the negotiated plan was “a better path overall.”

But he held out little hope that a new plan will emerge, despite ongoing deal-making going on in the Capitol today.

“We’re at the end. We’re past the time the session ought to be wrapped up,” said Brownback, dressed in blue jeans and button-up shirt for what many expect to be a marathon session today. “It needs to wrap up today, so let’s move on forward.”

Brownback said it’s too early to tell how much — if any — lawmakers will have to cut the budget next year as a result of the tax plan, which state analysts project will cause hundreds of millions in cuts year after year.

“I think we’re going to be in good shape,” he said, noting better than expected growth this year.

But that’s the opposite of what moderate Republicans and Democrats predict.

“We are not in the business of bankrupting the state of Kansas,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. “And if he signs that bill, that is a fiscal Armageddon.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said the state probably shouldn’t increase education funding and other services this year since it would just be quickly cut next year if Brownback signs the tax bill.

“There’s just simply no way we can grow our way out of the deficits this tax plan will cause,” he said.


As session draws near an end, deals abound

TOPEKA — House Republicans this evening laid out three major budget deals that could dramatically alter the outcome of this year’s legislative session. And they’ve given Senate negotiators about two hours to decide if they want to make a deal.

“Our offers are good for only tonight,” said Arkansas City Republican Rep. Kasha Kelley.

“We’ll just let you know when we’re ready,” said Sedgwick Republican Sen. Carolyn McGinn.

The proposals represent a high-stakes climax as the session grinds near an end. Meanwhile, Gov. Sam Brownback has on his desk a massive tax-cutting bill that he has said he will sign if an agreement isn’t worked out. That bill would force the legislature to cut hundreds of millions in spending for years to come, a move moderate Republicans and Democrats say could devastate core state services.

Under one scenario, the House and Senate would agree to approve a negotiated tax-cutting proposal that the Senate today essentially rejected, sending it back to a committee for further debate as the clock runs out. In exchange, the milder tax plan would free up additional money for education, a top priority for moderate Republicans in the Senate. But it comes with a catch. The Senate would have to approve a set of education policy recommendations that Gov. Sam Brownback has advocated for.

Those education policy changes include reclassifying some school funding money so that courts, which are likely to rule whether the state provides adequate funding, would take into account more funding categories than it has in the past. Another move would change how school districts calculate at-risk students, which has an impact on funding districts receive based on how many low-income or English as a second language students they have.

A second scenario would give the Senate the $74 per student funding increase it has sought along with equalization money for property-poor districts in exchange for the policy changes.

And a final package would ditch the education policy and funding increases, leaving schools with a smaller increase while advancing a technical education initiative sought by Brownback.

Whatever they decide would have to be voted on by the House and Senate, most likely Saturday morning or early afternoon.



Dillmore challenges eligibility of opponent, Whitmore

TOPEKA — Wichita Democrat Rep. Nile Dillmore objected today to the eligibility of Republican John R. Whitmer to run in the 92nd House district, which includes the Riverside neighborhood in Wichita.

In an e-mail to the Secretary of State’s office, Dillmore said Whitmer lists his address on N. Faulker Avenue in the district, but he says voter records show he lives on Forestview Court in District 94 in west Wichita.

Whitmer said that he closed on a house on Faulker Avenue about three weeks ago and is finishing up his move-in. He said he recently changed his voter registration address and is eligible to run against Dillmore.

Whitmer, who operates a convention and events company called KanCon, said previously lived in Riverside before moving to west Wichita.

Dillmore has represented the 92nd district since 2001 and is the ranking minority member on the House taxation committee.

Brownback looks forward to signing massive tax-cutting bill

TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback said this afternoon that he looks forward to signing a massive tax-cutting bill now that the Senate has sent a milder tax reduction bill back to a committee for more negotiation.

Brownback said he is disappointed that the Senate didn’t debate and vote on the alternative bill as the legislature nears the end of a grueling session that has run about a week longer than expected.

“I look forward to signing the bill on my desk and I call on legislators to finalize their work on the budget based on the enactment of Senate Sub. for HB 2117,” he said. “The legislative session needs to conclude.”

The Senate today voted 21-18 to the push back the alternative to the deficit-inducing tax reduction bill on Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk.

But it quickly became clear that conservative Republicans aren’t interested in more negotiation after months of pushing for tax reform.

St. Marys Republican Rep. Richard Carlson, who has represented the House in negotiations, said he doesn’t plan to negotiate more and he encouraged Brownback to sign the bill on his desk today. Brownback said he will announce a bill signing ceremony sometime next week.

The bill on Brownback’s desk cuts individual income tax rates and eliminates the tax on profits earned by about 191,000 companies in the state. The bill, which Brownback had said he will sign if an alternative doesn’t reach his desk, would force the state to make hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to services in coming years if it doesn’t generate enough economic growth to replace the lost income tax revenue with sales and property tax money generated by new jobs and new residents.

Democrats and moderate Republicans doubt that’s possible, and they’ve called the bill irresponsible.

Wichita Republican Sen. Les Donovan, who has been at the center of the tax debate for months, said he felt the altnerative plan was responsible and would benefit all Kansans. He also said he thinks Brownback should not sign the other bill because of the impact on the state budget.

“This is a sad day in the history of this chamber and this state,” he said.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, was among 21 moderate Republicans and Democrats to vote in favor of reopening negotiations.

“We are asking for a responsible tax package that addresses the concerns of a large majority of Kansans while leaving room in the budget to restore cuts to classrooms and public safety, he said in a statement. “If we do not show good faith and restore cuts to education, the courts may certainly require us to add money to education this summer.”

Topeka Democrat Sen. Laura Kelly referenced projections that show even the alternative tax plan could cause deficits, despite initial projections that showed it would leave the state with a surplus through 2018. New projections produced for lawmakers exclude about $350 million in projected savings as a result of Medicaid reform and add money for increased education funding.

With those factors combined, the alternative plan would cause a budget shortfall of $42 million in 2015 that grows to $1.5 billion by 2018. (Read more about that here.)

The Senate approved that plan in a 29-11 vote in March after initially voting 20-20 to kill it. Several senators said they only changed their vote after Brownback’s administration pleaded with them to approve the bill so that the Senate would have a position to negotiate from in a committee wtih House members who had approved their own tax-cutting plan.

But when the House heard the Senate would kill a negotiated plan that emerged, it quickly voted the deficit-inducing proposal out and sent it to Brownback, who said he would sign it if a new proposal didn’t emerge.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick and chairwoman of Senate Ways and Means, said that lawmakers will have to make significant budget cuts if Brownback signs the bill. McGinn said she initially voted for the bill to start negotiations with the House. She said she hopes the House will reopen negotiations on a more responsible plan.

A group of former Republican lawmakers, called Traditional Republicans for Common Sense, immediately urged Brownback to veto the bill.

“The governor has taken us to the financial cliff and only he has the ability to stop us from going over,” said former Assistant Majority Leader and former chairwoman of the Republican Party  Rochelle Chronister. “This is not a game. The magnitude of this bill cannot be overstated and the impact that it will have on our communities and schools will be real and unforgiving.”