Daily Archives: May 16, 2012

Tax compromise reached; House will vote first

House and Senate negotiators discuss a new tax cut proposal today as lobbyists and journalists observe.

TOPEKA — Kansas taxpayers would get to keep a little bit more of their earnings  and thousands of businesses would eventual not pay any taxes on their profits under a tax-cutting proposal House and Senate negotiators agreed on Wednesday.

Gov. Sam Brownback said he supports the plan and urged the House and Senate to approve it. The House could vote on the plan as early as this afternoon.

Some conservative Republicans in the House are expected to balk at the new tax plan because it is not as aggressive as a deficit-inducing proposal that lawmakers rammed through last week after a series of political maneuvers that enraged moderate Republicans and Democrats.

But, with Brownback’s support, it appears poised to pass.

Prospects are less clear in the Senate. Key lawmakers have been skeptical about how many jobs income tax cuts can generate and have raised concerns about how slicing away state revenues could impact the state’s ability to fund education and other services.

“What we need to do is somehow, some miracle, convince enough people on the Senate side to vote for this,” said Wichita Republican Sen. Les Donovan, who has been at the center of tax negotiations for months. “This is good for everybody in the state of Kansas.” Read More »

Kobach proposes courts — or he — redraw legislative districts

Kobach

TOPEKA – As the state Senate makes a last-ditch effort to draw district maps acceptable to moderate and conservative Republicans, Secretary of State Kris Kobach filed court papers asking that federal judges redistrict Kansas – and offering to draw the districts himself.

Kobach said the court could select from maps that have been submitted in the Legislature or draw their own. Or, his filing said, “alternatively Defendant (Kobach) stands ready to submit valid plans of legislative apportionment, congressional apportionment, and state Board of Education apportionment for the court’s consideration and issuance.”

The legal papers are in response to a lawsuit filed by Robyn Essex, a Republican precinct committeewoman from Olathe. Essex is represented in court by Brent E. Hayden, a Missouri lawyer who formerly served as chief of staff to Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson.

Both O’Neal and Kobach, a former chairman of the state Republican Party, are closely aligned with the conservative wing of their party. Conservatives are planning to challenge at least eight senators in the August primary in an effort to swing the Senate more to the right.

In a news conference, Kobach said he “fervently” hopes the Legislature does reach agreement on district maps.

“This task does not belong in the hands of a plaintiff and the secretary of state and three federal judges,” Kobach said. “This task belongs, under the Kansas Constitution, in the hands of the Legislature. Time is very short; they can still render this case moot. But we have to proceed.”

Essex’s case argues that the current House, Senate and congressional districts are unlawful because of wide population shifts since the districts were drawn 10 years ago. The Kansas Constitution tasks the Legislature with redrawing districts every 10 years to ensure equality of representation.

This year, redistricting has been held up by a political battle pitting moderate Republican senators against the House and conservatives in their own chamber.

A map that passed the Senate favors moderates, while the House has approved a map friendlier to conservatives.

While stopping short of endorsing or opposing any existing map, Kobach singled out the Senate for criticism.

He said if he is called on to draw districts, his guiding principles will be “that districts be compact, that communities of interest be preserved, and notions of fundamental fairness demand that you don’t gerrymander in a way to give one side or another an unfair advantage.

“I think one of the reasons the Senate has been so dysfunctional has been because they have abandoned those basic principals and have been torn apart by efforts to gerrymander (and) to take particular individuals out of districts. That simply has no place in redistricting.”

Kobach praised the House for passing maps that achieved “broad consensus” while the Senate’s map passed that body by a minimum majority.

“According to the House, and I think these are legitimate concerns; one is that one of the challengers was redistricted out of the district in which he would have challenged the sitting senator,” Kobach said. “The other concern is that the Senate map deviated populationwise more than is prudent.”

The challenger Kobach referenced is Wichita businessman Gary Mason, a political newcomer who has announced a challenge to Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick.

Senate redistricting Chairman Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, said the Senate is not dysfunctional, just politically divided. He said it’s no surprise that Kobach is taking the side of the more conservative House.

“I have to call it what it is,” Owens said. “There’s no question in anybody’s mind that the secretary of state’s leanings are very conservative, so he’s joined the crew of conservatives who blame the moderates.”

In Kobach’s response to the Essex lawsuit, he agreed with the plaintiff that it is unlikely that the Senate will create a district map that will also pass the House and Gov. Sam Brownback.

“We’re now at a point where the state is in grave danger of violating federal law,” Kobach said.

If they can’t reach accord on redistricting by the end of this week, he proposes that the court appoint a three-judge panel to pass the maps.

Kobach said the federal courts are the only venue that can take over redistricting from the Legislature. The state Supreme Court has the authority only to review maps passed by the Legislature and governor, he said.

“I’ve been a professor of constitutional law for much of my career,” he said, adding that he has taught classes on court decisions at issue in the case.

Owens, who is also a lawyer, said he believes the state will have jurisdiction on the House and Senate maps, not the federal courts as Kobach maintains.

“I’m very surprised to see that an attorney with his (Kobach’s) national involvements would make a statement like that when it’s very clear that the jurisdiction for the state issues is in the state Supreme Court,” he said. “They have original jurisdiction on a mandamus action dealing with the maps.”

He said the federal court would likely defer the state legislative maps to the Kansas court. The congressional map would probably be the only one decided at the federal level, he added.

Throughout the day, a working group of seven senators – three conservative Republicans, three moderate Republicans and one Democrat – went through the tedious process of trying to draft a map that might gain a broader consensus.

Sitting in the basement office of the Legislative Research Department, they used mapping software to move district lines around, trying to meet as many senators’ preferences as possible.

At the end of the day, no new maps emerged from the process. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka and the lone Democrat in the group, said the process will continue Thursday.

A transit tax and Tuesday’s vote to avoid bus cuts

By Bill Wilson

A few locker room notes from Tuesday’s transit discussion at City Hall.

• The 4-3 vote to approve Janet Miller’s compromise cuts to save transit came as a surprise on press row.

The swing vote, council member James Clendenin, didn’t voice much approval of Miller’s ideas during council discussion, instead expressing concern about the loss of some neighborhood cleanups and street maintenance, along with the quick pace of Miller’s 11th-hour plan to scale back the two services and delay Kennedy Plaza renovations at Century II for a year.

That pace clearly bothered council members Lavonta Williams and Michael O’Donnell, as well. Meanwhile, council member Jeff Longwell was focused on the inefficiency of the westside connector, which serves an average of 52 riders per day.

Perhaps Mayor Carl Brewer deserves some of the credit, for his brief interjection that council members were “trying to save projects in their own district” at the expense of a “citywide” transit system.

Read More »

Legislative limbo: Lawmakers fret over budget, hotel rooms as session drags on

TOPEKA — The House and Senate standoff continues today.

Lawmakers are entrenched, largely because of disputes between moderate Republicans in the Senate and conservatives in the House, and the acrimony is delaying meetings and extending the legislative session, which is already three days beyond its usual 90-day session.

House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfried, R-Olathe, this morning told House GOP members that the state budget hinges on whether the Senate will vote on a new tax-cutting plan or if the budget will be adjusted for the massive tax-cut bill that Gov. Sam Brownback could sign in coming days.

The bill headed toward Brownback would give lawmakers less opportunity to provide state workers with a 1 percent cost of living pay increase and a host of other issues debated by budget committee members. But if the Senate approves an alternative plan with a smaller price tag, it could free up some money to add to ending balances or to spend on education, pay raises or other items.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said the bill headed toward Brownback “is going to be devastating.”

Read More »