Politics & Government

2010 Kansas legislative session is in the books

TOPEKA — Kansas legislators formally ended the 2010 session Friday without trying to override several vetoes in the budget by Gov. Mark Parkinson, and on the same day learned that revenue estimates missed the mark in May by $24 million.

Both of the Republican-controlled chambers met briefly to handle routine matters, with many members absent. Senate President Steve Morris said the "uneventful" nature of Friday's gathering reflected legislative sentiment that it was time to go home.

"The session's over and people realized the session was over," said Morris, R-Hugoton.

Parkinson, a Democrat, rejected 11 items in a $13.7 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. He tried to downplay Friday's bad economic news, in which state budget officials said the state collected only $332 million in May, far short of the $356 million it had hoped for. Now, the state is about $89 million short in what is needed to balance the budget.

"As Kansas continues its economic recovery, we expect the normal ups and downs of month-to-month revenue collections," Parkinson said. "The road to recovery will have its bumps, but we're still heading in the right direction."

One provision he rejected would have prevented the state from sending funds to Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services for poor Kansans. Another was designed to block regulation of greenhouse gases.

Parkinson also deleted a provision that diverted $903,000 from public broadcasting and sent it to the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs.

The Legislature's substantial business was completed May 11. That included passage of a 1 percentage point increase in the state sales tax rate to 6.3 percent, aimed at preventing further cuts in public schools, health care programs and public safety.

"We stabilized the budget for the next two or three years, at least," Morris said of the new revenue.

House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said he and other conservative Republicans knew they'd have a tough time stopping the sales tax increase.

"Am I disappointed that we ended up with a tax increase that is wholly unnecessary? Yeah, I'm disappointed, but that's the democratic process," O'Neal said. "We came within a couple of votes of keeping this from happening."

All 125 House seats are up for re-election this year, and speculation has been that many of those who supported the tax increase would have difficult roads back to Topeka. The filing deadline for House races is June 10, and the primary is Aug. 3.

Morris was reluctant to declare winners and losers in the session, which he said was one of the most difficult in recent years because of the budget challenges.

A number of issues, such as a statewide smoking ban, a primary seat belt law, a ban on texting while driving and a comprehensive transportation plan had been churning through the Statehouse for several years before passage this session. The transportation plan, signed by Parkinson on Tuesday, will spend $8.2 billion over the next 10 years on highway, aviation and railroad projects.

"The transportation plan is huge," Morris said. "It will create hundreds of jobs for years to come. It's truly significant."