Sunday, April 22, 2012

Future direction of state at stake in upcoming wrap-up session, legislators say

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

A legislator said Saturday that the future direction of Kansas will be determined in the upcoming wrap-up session and Republican Party primary where moderate Republican senators face opposition from Gov. Sam Brownback’s conservative political allies.

Legislators reconvene the 2012 session Wednesday with a long list of issues before them, including the state budget, redistricting, school finance and Brownback’s proposal to overhaul the tax system.

State Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said many of the issues will set the stage for the August GOP primary where the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Koch Industries are working to defeat eight moderate Republican state senators and put the Senate under the control of conservative Republicans who are more aligned with Brownback.

Holland said if the current moderate GOP leadership in the Senate is defeated, “You are not going to recognize Kansas two or three years from now.”

Holland’s comments came during the Eggs and Issues legislative forum put on by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and held at the Eldridge Hotel.

Holland, who lost to Brownback in the 2010 gubernatorial race, said Brownback’s plan to phase out the state income tax and limit budget growth would mean less money for public schools.

But state Rep. TerriLois Gregory, R-Baldwin City, said schools have stashed away funds in balances that they are not using.

“There are taxpayer funds that are out there and in accounts, but they are not being utilized,” she said.

Schools have argued many of these accounts are for dedicated purposes and don’t offset the cuts made to schools over the past couple of years.

Brownback has said his tax proposal would grow the economy and create jobs. His plan would phase out the state income tax and remove taxes on income for nearly 200,000 businesses, including sole proprietor, partner or Subchapter-S corporations. The proposal would keep in place the 6.3 percent state sales tax, which under current law is set to decrease to 5.7 percent in 2013, and remove numerous deductions and tax credits.

But state Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, said Brownback’s proposal increases the tax liability for those making under $25,000 and gives that money to those making more than $250,000.

“It is going to be a struggle between the rich and the poor,” she said of the tax battle.

On the issue of redistricting, the Legislature is fighting over redrawing maps for congressional and legislative districts to accommodate populations shifts over the past 10 years.

Republican leaders in the House recently floated a plan to put Lawrence, which is currently divided between the 2nd and 3rd U.S. House districts, in the vast 1st District.

But state Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said that was unlikely to happen.

The 1st is currently represented by one of the most conservative Republicans in the House, U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Fowler.

“It’s not just that we don’t want him; he doesn’t want us,” Sloan said.

On another issue, Brownback is going forward on a plan to privatize Medicaid under a new system called KanCare, but a bipartisan group of legislators wants to maintain the current system of long-term care for those with developmental disabilities.

Gregory said that Brownback’s Secretary on Aging, Shawn Sullivan, told her that the administration has decided to delay until 2014 placing services for those with developmental disabilities into KanCare.

“I’m very happy that the secretary of aging has been listening and working with us,” Gregory said.

But Mah said the Legislature should keep the system for developmentally disabled as it is currently, which produced some applause from the audience.

State Sen. Marci Francisco and state Rep. Barbara Ballard, both Democrats from Lawrence, also spoke at the meeting.