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Legislative limbo: Lawmakers fret over budget, hotel rooms as session drags on

TOPEKA — The House and Senate standoff continues today.

Lawmakers are entrenched, largely because of disputes between moderate Republicans in the Senate and conservatives in the House, and the acrimony is delaying meetings and extending the legislative session, which is already three days beyond its usual 90-day session.

House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfried, R-Olathe, this morning told House GOP members that the state budget hinges on whether the Senate will vote on a new tax-cutting plan or if the budget will be adjusted for the massive tax-cut bill that Gov. Sam Brownback could sign in coming days.

The bill headed toward Brownback would give lawmakers less opportunity to provide state workers with a 1 percent cost of living pay increase and a host of other issues debated by budget committee members. But if the Senate approves an alternative plan with a smaller price tag, it could free up some money to add to ending balances or to spend on education, pay raises or other items.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said the bill headed toward Brownback “is going to be devastating.”

“I think we can have tax cuts, but maybe not as large and sweeping as we’ve seen so far,” she said, referencing the bill awaiting Brownback’s signature and an alternative agreed on by House and Senate negotiators that could be debated again sometime today.

But it’s unclear if the Senate will take up an alternative plan or if the House would agree with a less aggressive tax cut now that it has a big tax cut bill headed to Brownback’s desk.

McGinn, who is the chair of Senate Ways and Means, said senators and representatives have reached a stalemate on budget negotiations. The largest issue is whether the state uses general funds for education finance, as the Senate prefers, or taps into Department of Transportation dollars, as House leaders suggest.

“It’s kind of meaningless to continue,” McGinn said.

With that in mind, senators have packed their budget, which includes many items the House agreed on, into another bill that would allow the Senate to vote on the budget, send it to the House and, potentially, leave the Capitol having finished all necessary business. (House and Senate negotiators plan to meet later today to discuss possible resolutions.)

Newton Republican Rep. Mark Rhoades, who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that House Speaker Mike O’Neal would likely declare the Senate’s budget bill materially altered, a designation that would kill the bill and put budget negotiators back at the table to continue talking.

Beyond the pressure of approving a budget, redistricting maps, tax cut bills and education funding, lawmakers have another thing to consider: hotel rooms.

Several lawmakers say hotel managers have asked them to leave to make way for other customers who have reservations for the NHRA Summer Nationals drag races in Topeka this weekend.

Siegfreid said his goal is to finish the legislative session by late Friday or early Saturday morning.

“We need to get out of here,” he said. “This thing is deteriorating.”

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