Politics & Government

Late-night budget deal gives $40 million more to Kansas schools

TOPEKA – State lawmakers reached a compromise late Saturday night that would mean $40 million more in spending for schools.

The budget deal comes after a series of stalemates on issues all day Saturday, including education, as moderate Republicans sought to lock in more money for schools and conservatives pushed for education policy changes sought by Gov. Sam Brownback.

Earlier, the Senate rejected a wide-ranging offer from Brownback that sought to end the session by giving the Senate the education funding and budget deals it sought in exchange for approval of a batch of redistricting maps and an alternative tax-cut plan that wouldn’t hit the state’s budget as hard as the massive tax-cut bill sitting on Brownback’s desk.

“The governor thought it was a fair compromise on all the important issues before the Legislature,” said Brownback’s spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag.

But Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said the alternative tax cut proposal could still create a budget deficit and require massive cuts to state services, and he said it will likely be up to the courts to decide what the state’s new political boundaries are because lawmakers can’t agree on new maps.

Later in the evening, Jones-Sontag said the governor’s office was no longer in talks with legislators over tax-cut alternatives and that Brownback planned to have a ceremony Monday in Wichita to sign the massive tax-cut bill. Those plans aren’t firm because it wasn’t clear when lawmakers would wrap up business for the year. Brownback has until May 26 to decide the bill’s fate.

Thee budget deal means beleaguered politicians will return to the Capitol at 10 a.m. today to vote on a $14 billion budget after a grueling, extended session dominated by conservative-vs.-moderate Republican ideals that are sure to escalate during this summer’s campaigns.

“We’ve had a lot of disagreement,” Morris said.

Arguments over deficits

The tax on Brownback’s desk cuts individual income tax rates and eliminates the tax on profits earned by about 191,000 companies in the state.

Brownback said it’s too early to tell how much – if any – lawmakers will have to cut the budget next year as a result of the tax plan, which state analysts project will cause hundreds of millions in cuts year after year.

Brownback’s administration, meanwhile, has said the big tax cuts could produce 23,000 jobs more than natural growth by 2020.

“I think we’re going to be in good shape,” Brownback said, noting better-than-expected growth this year.

That’s the opposite of what moderate Republicans and Democrats predict.

“We are not in the business of bankrupting the state of Kansas,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. “And if he signs that bill, that is a fiscal Armageddon.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said the state probably shouldn’t increase education funding and other services this year since they would just be quickly cut next year if Brownback signs the tax bill.

“There’s just simply no way we can grow our way out of the deficits this tax plan will cause,” he said.

Education, remapping

House and Senate negotiators reached a deal at 11:30 p.m. Saturday to add $40 million of state aid for education funding after a grueling debate.

It was unclear Saturday evening how the redistricting maps Brownback offered the Senate would have affected primary election races between moderate incumbent Republicans and conservatives who seek to unseat them. The Senate map proposed by Brownback was not publicly available.

Sen. Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, said the map resulted from negotiations between him and Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence. He said it appeared the map could have enough support, but that withered when last-minute changes were made.

The proposal would have put Wichita businessman Gary Mason outside of the district he has planned to run in against Sedgwick Republican Sen. Carolyn McGinn. It would have kept Wichita Republican Rep. Brenda Landwehr in the same district as Wichita Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf, whom Landwehr plans to challenge in the Senate primary.

Nearly all key leaders in the Statehouse now believe redistricting will be decided by the courts.

Blaming politics

Morris said the acrimony in the Legislature will likely be viewed differently by people across the state.

“Some people will just look at the periphery of it and say ‘I wonder why they can’t get things done?’” he said. “Other people that keep up with what’s going on … probably realize the difficulty that we’ve gone through.”

He blamed politics.

“The fact that the Kansas Chamber and others have targeted a number of traditional Republicans in the chamber has made the session a little more difficult,” he said. “A lot of actions that have gone on in the Legislature have either tried to help that goal or keep that goal from happening.”

House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, said the Legislature has accomplished some key goals, such as pension reform and education funding. But he also said political infighting reached an unusual level during the session, and he blamed politics in the Senate during an election year.

“The real disappointment, and what I see the public looking at, is ‘Why can’t the Legislature do what the Constitution requires them to do every 10 years and redistrict in a 90-day session?’ That’s unfortunate and I’m disappointed in the legislative process, and the public should be disappointed in it too.”