TOPEKA — State lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Wednesday to find the same tax policy gridlock they walked away from a month ago.
Posturing and private meetings ensued. And legislative leaders emerged to tell fellow lawmakers to settle in for a long, frustrating grind, a warning that belies the optimistic pledges of a shorter-than-usual legislative session.
The Senate’s tax plan, roughly aligned with the one pitched by Gov. Sam Brownback, seeks to extend an increased level of sales tax at 6.3 percent to help pay for income tax cuts approved last year and more reductions in coming years.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, acknowledged voting for an elevated sales tax poses political problems for House Republicans, who face re-election campaigns in 2014. Many House members have voiced opposition to any new taxes. Senators have already voted in support of extending the recession-era increase.
But Wagle, who said she doesn’t expect any Democrats to support the evolving plans, promised senators wouldn’t forget it if House members support the Senate plan.
“We’ll stand with them as they go through the re-election process,” Wagle pledged.
House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Johnson County Republican, indicated that the sales pitches from the Senate probably won’t do much.
“This group has been lobbied by several people throughout the session — senators, the governor’s office, the governor’s staff,” he said. “I’ve lobbied nobody. And we had a vote of 92 on one bill” —the House’s tax plan, which doesn’t include the sales tax extension — “and a 120 on the other (in opposition to the Senate’s tax plan), and I’ve lobbied nobody. So I think the message has been sent.”
The political posturing comes as negotiations between the House and Senate have essentially stalled, leaving further negotiations to be handled by Wagle, Merrick and Brownback.
Wagle said both sides have made offers. Merrick said the same. Both expect compromise, but neither provided details on how that could be done.
“It’s going to move slow,” Merrick told fellow House Republicans. “It will eventually end, but it’s agonizing to get there.”