Ashcroft backs Tiahrt in Senate race

Former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft, once one of the country’s leading conservatives, has endorsed Rep. Todd Tiahrt in his race for the Senate in Kansas.

“Conservatives across this country are yearning for principled conservatives in Washington,” Ashcroft, attorney general under former President George W. Bush, said in a statement. “I feel strongly that Todd Tiahrt can help provide that common sense conservative leadership in the Senate.”

Tiahrt is seeking the Republican nomination to the seat being vacated next year by Sen. Sam Brownback, who is running for governor. Kansas Republican Rep. Jerry Moran is also seeking the seat.

Ashcroft, a former Missouri governor, served one term in the Senate. He also explored a run for president prior to the 2000 campaign.

Tiahrt’s campaign logo gets some unwanted attention

Tiahrt's logoShenanigans blog on the website Politico poked fun at U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt’s logo for his Senate bid with one comment comparing it to a 13-year-old girl’s note.

“And by “adorable” we mean, not really,” the site snarked.

The Goddard Republican, who was first elected to Congress in 1995, has used the logo – a “T” with a “heart” in previous successful elections. Tiahrt is hoping to replace Republican U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, who is running for governor. Tiahrt is running against Republican U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran.

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.

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.

Senate vote on Kansas Gov. Sebelius set for Tuesday

Sebelius NominationBy David Goldstein/Eagle Washington Bureau

The Senate will vote on Tuesday whether to confirm Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services secretary.

The debate could last several hours. She’ll need 60 votes for confirmation; Democrats are confident she will be approved.

Coal plant bill on its way to the governor’s desk, veto promised

TOPEKA – The Kansas House voted 74-48 a moment ago to resurrect two coal plants for Western Kansas.

Legislation designed to eliminate the authority a state regulator used to reject the plants now moves to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius, a Democrat, has promised to veto the measure.

The vote is significant in that it’s 10 less than the 84 votes needed to override a veto.

Supporters of the project say they’ll use the Legislature’s three week spring break (likely starting tonight) to win over more votes.

It appears supporters are actually losing votes, however. When the House originally passed the legislation in February, the vote was 79-44.

Getting a veto-proof majority in the Senate has never been a challenge. Thursday, the Senate voted tonight 31-7 to send the bill to Sebelius – a higher margin than the two-thirds majority needed to overrule a veto.

The bill would strip the discretion a state regulator used to reject the coal-fired power plants in 2007. He cited concerns about carbon emissions and climate change.

Since then, a majority in the Republican-led Legislature has fought for the project, saying its jobs and energy are badly needed. Three times they passed legislation last year, and three times failed to override Sebelius’ vetoes.

This year’s bill, like its predecessors, contains modest provisions to encourage renewable energy and energy conservation.

Lawmakers will soon depart Topeka for a three-week break before returning for a brief wrap-up session at the end of the month. That’s when an attempt to override a Sebelius veto would occur.

Sunflower Electric Power Corp. had hoped to build the plants near Holcomb, Kan. Most of the power generated would serve out-of-state customers.

– David Klepper

House approves increase to the state minimum wage

TOPEKA – The Sunflower state’s minimum wage will increase for the first time in about two decades to $7.25 in a bill passed by the House.

The issue has been a perennial goal for Democrats for several years but never gained traction. This year could change that.

The negotiated compromise for Senate Bill 160 passed 110-15 and now goes to the Senate where it is likely to pass and be sent to the governor’s desk.

Currently, Kansas’ minimum wage is $2.65. The state estimated about 19,000 Kansans would see their wages increase if the bill passes.

The increase would take effect Jan. 1, 2010.

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.

Coal debate planned Thursday in both chambers

TOPEKA – Kansas lawmakers plan to leave for their annual three-week spring break Friday.

First, however, they’ll mount one more attempt to resurrect two coal plants rejected by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Both the House and Senate expect to take up the contentious issue Thursday.

The legislation would eliminate the discretionary power a state regulator used to reject the plants in 2007. State Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby cited carbon emissions in his refusal to grant a permit to Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build two coal-fired plants in Western Kansas.

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Senate oversight of lieutenant governor appointees fails as an amendment

TOPEKA – An attempt to have the Senate confirm future lieutenant governor appointees failed on a tie vote in the chamber on Wednesday.

The amendment, proposed by Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, was an attempt to provide more oversight to the state’s second-in-command, he said.

“The new governor can make his appointment. We should be able to look under the rock and check the qualifications,” Pyle said.

The effort is particularly timely. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, is undergoing confirmation hearings to be head of Health and Human Services with President Barack Obama’s administration.

If she is confirmed, Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson would become governor and then nominate his successor. When that might happen is uncertain, as is who Parkinson might pick to fill his seat.

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