Report from Topeka, June 28, 2005


Thank you, Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director of Kansas Taxpayers Network.

Here’s a legislative update from Topeka as of noon Tuesday. A proposal to raise income and sales taxes has appeared now that the gambling measures are unable to pass out of the Kansas senate in the on going battle over judicial interference with the legislature and school finance in this state.

The house is working on two tracks: the federal and state affairs committee is working on a constitutional amendment that would provide specific boundaries to protect the legislature’s appropriation powers. The second track is a supplemental appropriations bill. The latter requires 63 votes to pass in the Kansas house while a constitutional amendment needs 84 house votes and then is submitted to voters for their final approval.

The legislature is operating under the Sebelius Supreme Court’s July 1 deadline of appropriating an additional $143 million for the fiscal year that begins on Friday. More is expected next year. Here are the major players and their positions:

Governor Sebelius called the special session and wants expanded gaming (although apparently not by Indian tribes but by state owned franchise monopolies) and the legislature to submit to the court’s spending order on school finance. Legislative Democrats are backing her position but have begun expressing support for increased income and sales taxes. It is unclear how big a tax hike the governor is supporting since she relies upon the court and legislative leaders like senate Minority Leader Tony Hensley, D-Topeka when it comes to various revenue measures.

Legislative conservatives are strongest in the house where many of them are saying that they will not appropriate a penny of new money (the state’s latest revised revenue estimates are showing that the Bush tax cuts nationally have recently produced about $86 million state revenue windfall) until the constitutional amendment clarifying the legislator’s budget powers is approved.

GOP liberals are trying to work a deal in the house with legislative Democrats but it is unclear if they have anywhere close to the 63 house votes needed to submit to the court’s order. The senate passed a $161 million spending plan last Friday on a 25-to-14 vote. There were 15 Republican senators who voted with all ten Democrats for this spending bill (one liberal GOP senator is sick and absent) and 14 Republicans voting against it. The entire senate GOP caucus along with one Democrat then followed this vote by rejecting expanded gaming 17-to-22 and then voted for the constitutional amendment clarifying the legislators budget powers. This was highly unusual since the senate Republicans can seldom agree on where the sun is going to set.

There are some GOP moderates who are outraged by the court and have backed the constitutional amendment to protect their constitutional powers. However, when this came up for a final vote in the Kansas house on Sunday, it failed on a 73-to-50 vote with two legislators missing and 84 votes needed for passage. 40-of-the-41 Democrats voting opposed the amendment. Nine Republicans voted with the Democrats led by several Johnson County “moderates” along with a handful of liberal and rural legislators. The GOP legislators voting with the Democrats on this included: Jeff Jack, Jim Yonally, Tim Owens, Stephanie Sharp, Barbara Craft, Don Hill, Dale Swenson, Pat Colloton, and Ray Cox.

The Kansas Supreme Court has one vacancy since the April death of one of its members. The six members include four registered Democrats (one was appointed by former Governor Bill Graves) and two Republicans. One of the Republicans was a lawyer who represented the lead school district behind the school finance lawsuit. What is interesting about this lawsuit and perhaps unique about Kansas is these facts: A) the legislature is not a party to the lawsuit and when they sought to participate before the court during the May oral argument the court denied them the right to appear; B) the legislature is being ordered to appropriated specific amounts by a date certain by this court; C) It is possible (I am basing this upon the testimony of the Attorney General and Rep. Mike O’Neal before the house’s federal and state affairs committee today) that the court may decide to allocate the funds in a manner that differs with the legislators’ appropriation and allocation of these funds.

Attorney General Phill Kline is clearly informing the entire legislature of their options and situation. Kline is trying to protect the citizens from a court that the moderate Rep. O’Neal described as engaging in a form of “…judicial extortion…” against the legislature and ultimately against the taxpayers of this state. O’Neal was careful in stating that the court had not overreached in their January 3 opinion on this case but had done so in their June 3 edict.

Interestingly enough, AG Kline reported that the court has not actually overruled their previous decision from 1994 in the USD 229 case where that KS Supreme Court declined to assume the powers that the 2005 KS Supreme Court has now grabbed. No final ruling has been issued by the court.

Regardless of how the legislature gets out of the current situation these facts are clear: 1) Increasing revenues are likely to be thrown at the schools if a constitutional option is sent to the people but this can occur without a tax hike but at a level well below $143 million; 2) gaming remains an issue; 3) while tax hikes are not the first option, tax hikes are going to appear among the tax ‘n spenders among most Kansas Democrats and all too many “moderate” Republicans; 4) the senate rejected on a 18-to-19 vote a proposal to cut spending by under $40 million yesterday (9 Republicans joined all ten senate Democrats on this vote).

The fact that tax ‘n spend legislators like Bill Kassebaum, Cindy Neighbor, and Dave Corbin were retired by the voters in 2004 is the primary reason that both expanded gaming and taxes have not moved further through the legislative processes this year.

Please feel free to forward this or send it along to Kansas web sites and blogs that are interested in this issue.

Karl Peterjohn


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