Legislative leaders agree not to work Fridays to save money

TOPEKA — Republican legislative leaders from the House and Senate announced Monday that neither chamber would work Fridays for the moth of January to save the state money.

The leaders also agreed to propose a 5 percent pay cut for legislators and to rescind the recent increase in legislative subsistence (per diem) pay, taking the daily allowance back from $116 to $109/day for food and lodging, a 6 percent cut. Those changes would have to be approved by the Legislature.

In past years both chambers would typically gavel in, then gavel out on Fridays. Lawmakers would get paid but usually no work was done.

“These calendar changes and cuts in legislative compensation are part of our overall approach to reduce costs at this time of severe stress on the state budget. Legislators want to do their part.” said Senate President Stephen Morris, R-Hugoton.

Lawmakers are paid $88.66 each day they serve in their elected capacity. They also receive a $109 per diem to cover expenses. So during a typical 90-day session, a lawmaker will pull in $17,789.40.

The furlough days – January 15, 22, and 29th – could save the legislative budget up to $141,728.

Exceptions will be made for lawmakers who work on the Senate Ways and Means and House Appropriations committees, which handle budget issues.

“Despite the short three-month duration of the legislative session, we know it’s important to control legislative costs along with other reductions in government spending. Today’s pay reduction proposal for the Legislature is a significant step in that process,” said Speaker of the House Rep. Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson.

Lawmakers will be grappling with an expected shortfall of more than $300 million for the 2011 budget, which starts July 1.

Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, will unveil his proposed 2011 budget tonight during his first and final State of the State speech at 7 p.m.

More bad revenue news for Kansas

MoneyTOPEKA – Lawmakers could be faced with cutting more than $100 million from the state’s current budget when they return to Topeka in January, the House budget committee heard Monday.

That assumes there are no further revenue drops, the governor does not order more cuts and state agencies do not request additional money to cover their budget needs.

The latter is unlikely. Alan Conroy, director of legislative research, told the House Appropriations Committee that the state Education Department already had a request of about $91 million additional funds, due in part to more students using free or reduced lunches and an influx in students.

Revenue news was not good in September, which reflected taxes from back to school shopping, money from the federal “Cash for Clunkers Program” and the first quarter of estimated income taxes, Conroy said.

Taxes came in about $67 million below estimated revenues, he said.

“Bottom line the news is not good, we are down about 5 percent overall and it is almost all in individual income taxes,” he said. Read More »

Need state tax instructions? Next year, look online

TOPEKA – The Department of Revenue is not going to be printing instruction tax booklets for next year to help save money.

“People can get the instructions and everything else off our website, we are only printing the (tax) forms,” Kansas Secretary of Revenue Joan Wagnon told the House Appropriations Committee on Monday.

In prior years, the printed booklets of the instructions were available at Post Offices, libraries and other public areas. The department is also going to sell the tax forms to accountants.

People who have been filing via mail last year will get a printed form in the mail. Those that file taxes for a living will have to pay for the forms, she said.

The moves are intended to encourage people to move online when filing taxes, she said.

“We need to condition the public to quit sending us so much paper,” Wagnon said.

By saving money on printing and postage she hope to divert more money to collector positions.

House accepts Senate budget proposal, cuts 2.75 percent to state government

TOPEKA – In an unusual move, the state House of Representatives voted to accept a budget bill already passed by the Senate instead of debating a proposal of its own.

The motion to concur with Senate substitute for House Bill 2373 came from Rep. Clay Aurand, R-Courtland, who voted against the measure himself but said he wanted to vote to move the issue forward.

The motion narrowly passed 64-60. The bill now goes to the governor.

It is identical to a proposal passed by the Senate on Tuesday. It includes 2.75 percent across the board cuts to most state agencies including kindergarten through 12th grade education.

The measure fills all but $70 million of a $328 million budget gap lawmakers have been struggling to fill.

The Senate Taxation Committee is working on several tax proposals to help fill the rest of the gap.

Appropriations Chairman Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, urged House members to vote against the proposal, saying the chamber would have a second chance to debate its own proposal later Thursday afternoon.

“What we are doing here is we are taking the House completely out of the process,” Yoder said.

Last Friday, a House budget proposal failed to gain enough support to pass. The House Appropriations Committee had been working to develop a second proposal but there still didn’t seem to be enough support in the chamber to pass the second bill.

Lawmakers are already eight days into a wrapup session and usually the budget is in a negotiating committee by this time, Aurand argued.

“I just wanted to move this down the road,” he said.

Fair fares stays in the state budget

TOPEKA – An effort to eliminate money from the state budget that is aimed at making Wichita air fares competitive went down in flames during the Senate’s budget debate Tuesday.

The proposal includes a 2.75 percent cut to all state government, including public schools and universities. Lawmakers are trying to plug a $328 million budget gap. The Senate’s proposal includes a mix of delayed tax cuts to increase revenue by $122.3 million and cuts to state government to the tune of about $154.5 million.

Kansas City, Kan. Democrat Sen. Chris Steineger suggested eliminating $5 million from the budget that goes to the fair fares program.

The idea met a hostile reception – ultimately Steineger was the only one to vote for the measure. A similar amendment failed during the House debate last Friday. The House failed to pass its budget bill.

“I think we need to save the five million per year,” he said. “That’s my goal to save some money.”

Lawmakers from throughout the state praised the program and opposed cutting the money.

“Why in the world would we abandon a project like this that has been wildly successful,” asked Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood.

He noted the state recouped about $5.25 for ever dollar it spent on the program.

The program had been developed to help make air fair prices out of Wichita competitive, said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick.

“We were looking at ways to stop the bleeding for people going out of state to catch a flight in another state, we finally reversed that,” she said.

Wichita Democrat Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau said eliminating the program would “be a step backwards.”

The amendment failed overwhelmingly.

The Senate is currently debating its budget proposal and could finish the bill this afternoon. Lawmakers are back in Topeka for a final wrap-up session where cutting more money from state budget is one of the top goals.

Senate budget debate postponed for another day

TOPEKA – The Senate had anticipated debating it’s budget proposal Monday, but that’s been postponed while negotiations take place.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said different factions on the Legislature had been working on their own budget solutions. Lawmakers are attempting to fill in a $328 million budget hole.

Instead of marching forward with this debate and forcing people to choose one faction or another we’re going to try to get those different groups to talk to each other over the next 24 hours and see if they can bridge their differences,” Schmidt said. “If that works the end result will be a budget with very broad support.”

That means the process will be hashed out off the chamber floor instead of in a very public debate.

“Negations are very delicate and debate is not always very delicate,” Schmidt said.

Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat has advocated a “shared sacrifice” approach using a combination of delaying tax decreases and cuts to state programs. The House’s budget proposal which relied only on cuts to state government failed to muster enough support to pass on Friday.

The budget is only part of the process, the Senate has proposed delaying a phase out of the corporate franchise tax and estate tax, plus decoupling from the federal tax code to add $96 million to state coffers.

Those changes need to go through the Senate Taxation Committee first, that committee is meeting at 5 p.m. to discuss the changes.

Schmidt told the chamber shortly before they adjourned that he hoped to have a budget proposal to debate at that time.

Text of Gov. Parkinson’s address to a joint session of the Legislature

Following is the prepared text of Gov. Mark Parkinson’s speech to a joint session of the Legislature.

Usually, both chambers only meet for special occasions such as the State of the State address in January. This meeting is a little unusual, then again it’s not every day a state gets a new governor late in the session.

Parkinson, a Democrat, was sworn in Tuesday evening as former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius left to take over as the Health and Human Services secretary.

This is his first chance to really address all the lawmakers and outline his goals.

Below is the speech as prepared for delivery.

“At the outset, I want to thank Speaker Mike O’Neal for granting me the honor to speak with all of you in this spectacular chamber. I had the privilege of serving in the House almost 20 years ago and to be back in this magnificent setting is invigorating.

“I also want to acknowledge all the other dignitaries who have taken the time to be here. Thanks to all our legislative leaders: Speaker O’Neal, President Morris, Leader Hensley, Leader Davis. I appreciate all the other legislative leaders for being here and each of you.

“I especially want to thank some groups of people who could not be here today: our brave troops fighting in two wars, including our own Melanie Meier; and the men and women of our public health and emergency management teams. From floods to flu, they are protecting communities across the state and I know you join me in thanking them for their continued hard work. Last but not least, I’d like to thank my wife Stacy for being here. We’ve been best friends, confidants and husband and wife for the last 26 years and she is everything to me.

“In this era of political division, we harbor many differences. We will not see eye to eye on every issue. We will not always agree. We will not. But, we will always share one thing: we share, all of us here, a love for the state of Kansas. Today, I’ve come to tell you all that this common bond will always be stronger than our differences. I have lived here for all of my 51 years and I love the state: our heritage, what we stand for, what we are and what we will become.

“I love our origin. I’m proud that we could have chosen to be a free state or a slave state and that we chose to be a free state. I’m proud that our ancestors migrated here from the east coast, not looking for fame or fortune, but rather to protect freedom. I’m so happy that I grew up in Wichita. As a small child, our two blocks seemed as big as the whole world. We explored, and we felt safe, secure and loved. And later I would become grateful for the education that I received at Heights High School and Wichita State University.

“I loved the time I spent as a child during the summers in Scott City. The economic engines of the state are all over, but the heart and soul of this state is in the West. As I grew older I spent time in every nook and cranny of the state and learned to love it all: the great heritage of Southeast Kansas and the Northeast, where we now live with its incredible entrepreneurs and opportunities for all Kansans. I love that we are the state of John Brown, William Allen White, Birger Sandzen, Alf Landon, Dwight Eisenhower, and Bob Docking.

“Most of all, I love our state motto: Ad Astra Per Aspera. The message that our founders sent us almost 150 years ago has never been more relevant than it is today: though our path may be rife with difficulty, we will reach the stars.

“That is why I’m honored and humbled to serve at a time when Kansas is hurting. You all know the numbers. The state and country are in the midst of the longest recession since the 1930’s. Tens of thousands of Kansans have lost their jobs, our revenues have plummeted, retirees have seen their accounts dwindle and fear is rampant. In spite of this, my message today is one of optimism.

“Throughout history, we have faced challenges that appeared to be insurmountable. The Great Depression, the Dust Bowls and the challenges of two world wars. In each of those occasions, Kansans have not only survived, we have prospered. Make no mistake: we will face and defeat our current economic challenge in the same way we have in the past: with a determined optimism, rooted in the common spirit that pushes all Kansans to the stars no matter what the obstacles. And when we defeat it we will come out stronger and better than before.

“The message of our shared past is clear: our belief is stronger than any doubt; our determination greater than any obstacle; and our passion more furious than any storm.

“State government must play a central role in this turnaround. For us to succeed in defeating this challenge, we must do three things. Our immediate need is to balance our state budget in a responsible way. This will require a post-partisan spirit of shared sacrifice.

“Our current deficit is $328 million. Filling that deficit will not be easy. The number is too large to fill it solely with additional budget cuts. Those cuts, on top of the cuts we have already imposed, would jeopardize critical state programs. Cutting these budgets $328 million would hurt education. But it is more than that. We talk about across the board cuts in numbers and percentages, but behind each of those numbers are real Kansans. Drastic cuts would hurt education, public safety, our corrections system and those that are disabled. And for those who believe business would be benefited by this approach, let me tell you that drastic cuts would diminish economic development efforts and hurt our ability to attract and retain new business to this state. On the other hand, I recognize that $328 million is too large a number to fill the hole solely with revenue enhancements. It would be a mistake to raise taxes.

“Fortunately, there is a middle ground. We need to share the sacrifice and address the deficit with both responsible budget cuts and revenue enhancements. Let me be very specific. On the revenue side, there are about $250 million in enhancements that we can make that won’t raise a single person’s taxes. These include delaying tax cuts, decoupling and recognizing gaming revenue. The good news is that these revenue enhancements don’t require us to raise anyone’s taxes. Tax cuts would be delayed, but no business or person would see their taxes increase.

“Shared sacrifice will then require us to make modest additional cuts to state government. Cuts that will be painful but that will not be crippling. These votes will not be easy. But, they are necessary. And I am confident that you will rise to the occasion and show both the leadership and courage to make the votes to balance this budget.

“This shared sacrifice is the Kansas way of life. When we face a crisis in this state, all Kansans join in assisting the recovery. But no group should be forced to bear the burden by themselves. That’s not the way Kansas works.

“The second action that we need to take as a State is to create and protect jobs. Our unemployment rate has increased from 4 percent to 6.5 percent. Kansans need to know that we are fighting as hard as we can to prevent additional job losses. There are several strategies we have to do this. We must promptly and efficiently put the Recovery Act funds in place. With its investments in education we are protecting jobs. With its funding of new highway programs and energy efficiency programs, we will create jobs. A key priority of this administration will be to continue to get the Recovery fund money working in Kansas as quickly as possible.

“We will protect and create jobs by holding on to previous victories we have had with NBAF and the Base realignment and closure process. NBAF was a great victory and now Texas is trying to take it away. My message to Texas is simple: if you interfere with NBAF, not only will we mess with Texas, we will crush your frivolous attempts to take it away.

“We will create jobs by aggressively pursuing companies that build on our core competencies. I will work tirelessly with our Department of Commerce to assist in its efforts to increase employment in our agriculture, manufacturing and energy industries.

“We will also create jobs for the future. We’ll continue our close work with the Kansas Bioscience Authority to solidify our space in the animal health sector. We’ll work closely with Kansas University to make sure that KU becomes a National Cancer Institute designated center. We’ll also work hard to attract renewable energy companies to the state. Kansas should be a national hub of both wind farms and factories that supply parts to those farms. Working together we will make that happen. This hard work will bear fruit and together we’ll protect the jobs of Kansans as we move through this recession.

“Finally, in order to turn this economy around, we need to unify the state. The time for typical party politics is over. The challenges are too daunting and the stakes are too high. It’s time for all of us, Republicans and Democrats, to forget about party politics. It’s time for us to do what our ancestors have done when faced with great adversity. We will roll up our sleeves, work hard, make the tough decisions and move forward. Not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Kansans, to solve the problems we face.

“I am confident with the legislative leaders that we have in place we will get this done. In President Morris, Leader Hensley, Speaker O’Neal, and Leader Davis, you have provided the State with outstanding Kansans who have placed the best interest of the State ahead of their own. We will make a great team as we move forward.

“I know that we are fixated on the 2010 budget and rightly so. The pain and fear that people are experiencing is real. But there will be brighter days ahead. I’ve learned in business to not just think about the next year, but to think about five, 10 and even 20 years from now. If we make the right decisions, our long term future will be bright. Bear with me as I tell you the vision I have of our future. I can see it as clearly as I can see you sitting before me today.

“In the year 2030, agriculture and manufacturing will thrive in Kansas. China and India will have 600 million new middle class citizens and if we keep our markets open, they will drive demand for our agriculture products and our aircraft for years to come.

“In the year 2030, NBAF will have been built and tens of thousands of high paying jobs will populate the corridor between Columbia, Missouri and Manhattan. Kansas will be known as both the Air Capital of the World and the Animal Health Capital of the World. In the year 2030, we will have fully exploited our wind energy resource in Western Kansas. We won’t have the impressive 1,000 megawatts of wind power we have now, we’ll have 10,000 to 20,000 megawatts of clean, renewable power. Factories will dot the state to supply these wind farms, and a corridor of factories from Wichita to Salina will develop that will make Kansas the renewable energy leader of the country.

“In the year 2030, KU will have received National Cancer Institute designation and all Kansans, regardless of income or status will receive the highest quality of cancer care available in the world. In the year 2030, we’ll have a growing population, made up primarily by increase in our Latino and Asian American populations. We will recognize that these new populations offer us a tremendous opportunity to fill all the jobs left vacant by retirees and that these new populations offer us a whole new group of consumers. Unlike states that shun these populations, we will recognize them as a great opportunity.

“In the year 2030, our K-12 system will be using the latest in technology so that every school child, regardless of where they are from, will receive the same high quality education as every other child in the state. In the year 2030, our regents system will excel. We’ll spend our time talking not just about whether our basketball or football programs are in the top 25. We’ll spend time talking about whether our medical schools, engineering schools, and undergraduate programs are in the top 25.

“All of these things can happen. You can make them happen. If we set aside the petty politics that permeates this country, and instead pull together, this vision of the future isn’t just the musings of an aging politician. This vision of prosperity that I’ve laid before you is our destiny.

“I close with a quote from Winston Churchill. During the worst of WWII a reporter asked Churchill if he was worried about how history would be treated. Again, he took no time and quickly responded.

“Churchill said, ‘History will be kind to me because I intend to write it.’

“Tonight, we open the next great chapter in our state’s history. Be certain: the title of that chapter, like so many great ones before it will be Ad Astra Per Aspera.

“Decades from now, our children and grandchildren and their children will look back and ask how we responded to the greatest crisis in 70 years. Did we panic or lead? Did we retreat to partisan interests or embrace shared sacrifice? Did we bicker or did we set aside party politics to work together as Kansans? I know the answer to each of those questions because I have confidence in each of you. I know that despite our differences, we share love for Kansas.

“So, let’s not just name this chapter with our great state motto, let’s get to work writing a history that all future generations can be proud of. God Bless each of you, this State and our great Country.”

Legislature’s wrap up session starts

TOPEKA – The Statehouse parking garage is full again, which means lawmakers are back in town.

The wrap up session starts today. Typically these mini sessions last only a handful of days. Legislators come back, tweak the budget and take a crack at overriding some vetoed bills.

This year is likely to be a little different. Facing a $328 million deficit, lawmakers are likely to use a combination of cuts to state programs and revenue enhancements to fill the gap.

That process is likely to be more contentious than adding money to key projects, which is typical in a good year.

Legislators are also likely to have at least two veto override attempts. One for a bill allowing the construction of two coal plants in Western Kansas and a second aimed at bolstering the state’s late-term abortion law.

Legislature possibly finishes up today

TOPEKA – Lawmakers could be finishing up their business in Topeka today and heading home for first adjournment.

A budget bill for 2010 is already on its way to the governor’s desk, which was the major item the Legislature needed to take care of.

Other big issues still floating about are a debate in the House on a bill that would allow to coal-fired power plants in Western Kansas, a final vote on a late-term abortion bill in the House then possible debate in the Senate.

A proposal to increase Kansas’ minimum wage from $2.65 to the federal level. The state’s minimum wage has not risen in about two decades.

Other than that, both chambers are simply handling committee reports and cramming through a wide variety of bills.

Even if something does not clear the Legislature by the end of today, lawmakers could have a second crack at it when they return for a wrap -up session at the end of April.

During the wrap-up session, lawmakers will have the opportunity to try and over ride any bills the governor vetoed.

They will also likely be making changes to the 2010 budget.

Most years, those change are additional spending for programs. This year it is like to mean cuts. In mid-April, the state will hear from the consensus revenue estimating committee which twice a year estimates the money Kansas will have for.

Senate adds money for health insurance for children

TOPEKA – The Senate quickly restored $1.2 million to its budget proposal on Tuesday to help provide health insurance to low- and moderate-income children.

The money will help expand eligibility for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to families making 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $55,000 annually for a family of four.

The amendment offered by Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, takes the money from the state’s Children Initiative Fund.

“What better use for the children of this sate than to provide them with health insurance?” Vratil asked.

The additional money will open coverage to about 8,000 more children.

The amendment passed on a voice vote.

The Senate is debating a budget proposal which spends $5.71 billion in state general fund and totals $13.3 billion when all funds are added together.