Politics & Government

May 2, 2014

House, Senate pass $14.6 billion budget

For a brief moment, it looked as if the Kansas House would fail to pass a budget for 2015.

For a brief moment, it looked as if the Kansas House would fail to pass a budget for 2015.

The initial vote count in the House on Friday night was 62-60 against a $14.6 billion spending plan.

But in the end, enough representatives thought better of it, switching votes to approve the budget 70-54.

The Senate had advanced it 22-18 Friday afternoon. It now heads to the governor’s desk.

The budget was the only piece of business lawmakers had to finish during a wrap-up session that started Wednesday. They still planned to consider a bill eliminating mortgage registration fees but appeared headed toward adjournment later in the night Friday.

A combination of viewpoints made the budget vote close in each chamber. Democrats opposed the state income tax structure, and some conservative Republicans wanted to use the budget bill to defund Common Core curriculum standards used in Kansas schools.

The bill specifies that approximately 38,000 public employees will get a $250 bonus in December but no pay raise.

The bill earmarks $360 million for the Department of Corrections for the next fiscal year, a piece of leftover business after Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed part of the corrections budget last year.

It also includes $250,000 for Kansas Global Trade Services, which is meant to help spur export growth in the Wichita area.

Democratic senators used the debate as a platform to attack Brownback and his legislative allies over dwindling state income and a drop in the state’s credit rating from Moody’s credit rating agency.

April revenue figures released this week showed Kansas took in $93 million less than projected.

Democrats said reckless tax-cutting, including elimination of state income taxes on owners of profitable limited liability companies, sole proprietorships and corporations organized under Subchapter S of the federal tax code, had left the state in a fiscal ruin that will become apparent in the next budget year.

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, criticized the governor, the Republican majority in the Legislature and Reagan-era economist Arthur Laffer. He said they are experimenting with Kansans’ lives and livelihoods in an effort to prove Laffer’s theory that steep tax cuts spur economic activity and ultimately increase government income.

“The grand experiment has failed,” he said. “The lab rat has died. Rigor mortis is setting in.”

He accused the GOP of closing the legislative session quickly to avoid a messy fight in an election year.

“We’re not going to come back and tackle this mess until next January,” he said. “Folks, that’s going to be a real stinky cage we’re going to have to deal with.”

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, who carried the budget bill, dismissed the Democrats’ statements.

He said he was pleased to give them time to recite their political “talking points” in the Senate.

But he added that the Republicans’ response will come during the campaign leading up to the November elections.

In the House, lawmakers voiced a different frustration: Negotiations on the budget bill happened without the House ever passing a budget of its own.

That meant that House members could not add any amendments to the bill, which upset lawmakers across the political spectrum.

Rep. Jim Howell, R-Derby, said this process prevented him from introducing an amendment meant to save Judge Riddel’s Boys Ranch and prevented him from arguing on behalf of his constituents’ needs.

“Today’s the 79th day of the session. We have 11 days left. In my opinion, there shouldn’t be such a hurry to get out of here that we don’t allow the process to follow the normal process,” Howell said. “I am greatly bothered by it.”

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