Majority votes hard to find in Legislature

by Rep. Don Schroeder

Kansas House of Representatives

Back in Topeka again this week. Leadership was hoping we could finish the session this week, maybe by going into the weekend, but that appears very unlikely as several items still need to be addressed.

Both the Senate and House seem to be really struggling to find a majority of votes for some of the more difficult issues. For those who do not think it is necessary to add revenues (increase taxes), it creates a situation where the clock simply runs out at some point. For those who think additional revenues are needed to fund schools and balance the budget, the pressure is on to get done.

Despite the politics, the Legislature is required by the Kansas Constitution to have a balanced budget when we adjourn the session. Of course, there are many moving parts to the state budget, so there are also many possible solutions. But the question is, which solution is palatable enough to pass the Legislature and then be signed into law by the governor, or override his veto. The bottom line still is that we balance the budget by cutting, raising taxes, or doing a combination of both.

The House passed its version of the school funding plan last week. HB 2410 added $185 million the first year and $285 million the second year, with additional years simply indexed to the consumer price index.

I don’t know as much detail about the Senate version passed Tuesday, but the general bill seems to be very similar to the House bill except with the price tag a little lower. Both bills have been fast-tracked and put into conference to hammer out a compromise version. That will require an up or down vote without the possibility of amendment.

Various tax proposals have been floated, but nothing since HB 2178 in March seems to gain much traction. We have had flat tax, and two- and three-tier income tax proposals with many other options floated, as well as whether to include things such as medical deductions and carry-forward of business operating expenses.

Another item of some interest is that Sales Tax and Revenue (STAR) bonds is up for reauthorization, so that issue has occasionally been included in the various proposals. Another offer was on the table Tuesday night. The Senate ran it first, where it passed. The House ran it later in the evening, where it failed. Back to square one again.

I have mentioned before that the House has not yet passed its omnibus budget. That’s the cleanup budget at the end of the session. There are a number of finishing touches to put into the budget, but there should be time to put committee amendments into place.

Despite the rhetoric, there are several items that deserve to receive at least a little more funding. The Budget Committee chairs typically bring those amendments to advocate for their cause, but anyone can bring an amendment of any type.

The Appropriations Committee had an informational hearing on a budget proposal that would not require any new taxes, but it turns out that most of the remedy was selling a portion of the tobacco settlement money and then adjusting revenue growth percentages to make the numbers work overall.

That does not appear to be a particularly workable solution since it is only a one year “fix” and does not solve any future budget shortfalls, but the discussion was interesting and new ideas are always welcome.

I fully expect we will finish sometime next week. That will likely mean late nights and long waits between voting on a new proposal as well as working through the weekend. That’s usually how the session ends anyway.