Daily Archives: May 18, 2012

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.”



Prepping for court fight, House and Senate pass more redistricting maps

TOPEKA — Preparing to take their months-long redistricting battle to federal court, Republican Senate moderates and Republican House conservatives passed district maps they hope will beat their rivals before a three-judge panel that will open the case on Monday.

The senators passed a map called “Buffalo 30,” which favors moderate Republican incumbents over GOP conservatives, who control the House and the governorship and have announced plans to try to take control of the Senate.

The House turned its attention to the congressional districts, passing a map that splits the Democratic stronghold of Lawrence and strengthens the GOP’s chances of holding all four of Kansas’ seats in Congress.

The Buffalo 30 map is the second map senators have passed. With virtually no chance in the House, it was designed to give the Senate the strongest possible map for the coming court case.

The map has major implications for south-central Kansas Senate races.

It puts both Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover and Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, in the 16th District, which could mean a head-to-head battle between two prominent Senate conservatives in the August primary.

The map also carves conservative Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, out of the 25th Senate District, where she has announced plans to challenge moderate Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf.

The map also leaves Wichita businessman Gary Mason out of the 31st Senate District. Mason plans to challenge incumbent Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick and has said he will move to run against her if necessary.

Along with most of the conservatives in the Senate, Masterson and Abrams both criticized the map during the floor debate.

Masterson accused Senate redistricting committee Chairman Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, of pushing for a map similar to one he had once considered unacceptable.

Chuckling, Masterson likened it to a running gag on Saturday Night Live in which the late Chris Farley would open embarrassing celebrity interviews with the line “you remember when you said…”

“That (earlier map) was obviously gerrymandering, you remember what your response was to that?” Masterson asked Owens. “’That wasn’t serious, that was a conversation starter,’ well here’s the conversation and it’s a serious conversation … It’s ironically right in front of us now.”

Asked if he wanted to respond, Owens drew laughs in the chamber when he deadpanned “I have no comment, unless he’s referring to me as Chris Farley.”

After having failed multiple times to get one of his maps passed, Abrams didn’t seek a vote on a version the House had approved.

He said he repeatedly tried to draw maps that didn’t create incumbent vs. incumbent matchups and made numerous changes to accommodate critics.

“I have not much doubt what the outcome is going to be,” he said. “To that end, I think I will just have a seat and just say we know where it’s headed and I would suggest we just get there as quickly as we can.”

The Senate’s first district map, called “Ad Astra Revised,” was rejected by the House.

House members complained that the population deviations from district to district in the Ad Astra map were too large. They passed an Abrams-drawn map instead.

Population deviation is generally an important factor for courts considering redistricting plans, because the purpose is to account for population changes and equalize representation across the state.

Buffalo 30 gives the Senate leadership and majority a map with smaller deviations.

The Legislature is required to redraw the House, Senate, congressional and state Board of Education districts every 10 years.

With the House and Senate deeply divided, the decision is now destined for the courts, although there are differing opinions on whether state or federal courts will make the final call on the state offices.

The court review begins Monday with motion hearings at the Kansas City federal courthouse, where Johnson County Republican precinct committeewoman Robyn Essex has filed suit against Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Kobach, a former chairman of the state Republican Party, is closely linked to the conservative faction of the GOP.

In court papers filed his week, Kobach recommended the court choose from maps that have made it partway through the Legislature, or let him draw the maps.

Two Johnson County resident, Benjamin D. Craig and Larry Winn III, filed to intervene in the case on Friday. According to their filing, they have both been active in local politics and fear that some proposed maps would leave their rapidly growing county under-represented.

The three-judge panel on the case will include two Kansas district judges, Chief Judge Kathryn Vratil and Senior Judge John W. Lungstrom, and Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, chief judge of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Vratil and Lungstrom were appointed by the first President Bush; Briscoe was appointed by President Clinton.

Kathryn Vratil is Senate President John Vratil’s ex-wife.

Sen. Vratil, R-Overland Park, is a leader of the Senate’s moderate Republican faction.

While the Senate worked on its own districts Friday, the House passed a new map for congressional seats.

Under the new map, dubbed Kansas Six, east Lawrence would be part of a west Kansas district and west Lawrence would be part of an east Kansas district.

The House’s original map, rejected in the state Senate, had split Topeka in much the same fashion, with the east side of the city going to the western district and west Topeka in the eastern district.

The new map passed with the barest of majorities, 56-54 with 15 members absent or not voting.

The districts in the proposed map are considered favorable to incumbent Republicans who now hold all four seats in the congressional delegation.

During floor debate in the House, it was revealed that the sitting Congress members had reviewed the maps, although it was not made clear how much influence they had over the drawing of their districts.

The primary objection to the new map was that it dilutes voting strength of moderate- to liberal populations in Lawrence, hometown of the University of Kansas.

East Lawrence would be at the end of a peninsula linking it to the 1st Congressional District, which includes all of western Kansas and is dominated by conservative Republicans.

West Lawrence would be part of the 2nd District, which is now held by Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins, but is considered more of a swing district and sent Democrat Nancy Boyda to Washington from 2007 to 2009.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said her city and her party are being treated unfairly by Republicans, who want to dilute the Democratic vote and cement their control over the congressional delegation.

“We know that underlying agenda is there,” she said.

Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, who carried the bill on the floor, acknowledged that the main reason to pass another map was to strengthen the House’s hand in the coming court case.

Splitting a city was necessary to balance populations among the districts, Kinzer said.

He said Lawrence being part of two districts could benefit the area because two congresspersons would need to pay attention to the city.

“Actually there is a real benefit to being split,” Kinzer said. “Having more representation on balance … can be a positive thing.”