TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate's new majority leader said Monday that efforts to boost the economy likely won't include a quick tax cut or a repeal of a recent sales tax increase because those policies could worsen the state's budget problems.
Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, said he isn't ruling out a debate on tax policy but said the Senate is likely to be "measured" in considering proposals for cuts.
Fellow GOP senators unanimously named Emler majority leader during a Monday caucus meeting, promoting him from chairman of the Senate's budget-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, was chosen to take over the powerful committee, which handles the budget in the Senate. She's served as a committee vice chairwoman for the past two years.
Emler will replace Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, who was elected attorney general this year. Republicans have a 32-8 majority in the chamber.
"I don't see any quick tax cuts coming, based on what I know about the revenues at this point in time," Emler said.
"If we got a quick tax cut, that would mean we're making a quick hole in the revenues that affect the budget."
Emler, a 61-year-old attorney, was first elected to the Senate in 2000 and re-elected in 2004 and 2008. He has served as Ways and Means Committee chairman for the past two years.
His views on tax issues are important because the majority leader sets the Senate's daily debate calendar and runs his party's caucus meetings. The only higher-ranking leader in the chamber is its president.
Some House Republicans who opposed last year's sales tax increase have talked about repealing it quickly after the Legislature reconvenes Jan. 10. Other House members, including Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, have suggested their chamber will consider some proposed tax cuts this year.
Emler is serving on the transition team for Gov.-elect Sam Brownback, a Republican who takes office Jan. 10. Brownback has said he believes the state needs to reduce its individual income tax rates to improve its economy, but he's not outlined a specific proposal or a timetable for making such cuts.
O'Neal said he wasn't surprised by Emler's comments and that he looked forward to hearing from Brownback on the topic.
"I do think he's still interested in some form of tax decrease," O'Neal said of the governor-elect. "And obviously, the House is in a mood to reduce taxes."
Brownback has criticized the sales tax increase but opposes its repeal next year because of the potential budget problems that could cause.
Legislative researchers have said the gap between projected revenues and current spending commitments is approaching $500 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Both Emler and Brownback have noted that the sales tax increase approved earlier this year is expected to raise more than $300 million.
Emler said he did not plan to use his new position to block legislation he might not agree with or that would be contentious.
"It is not my position to bottleneck anything," he said after the short election meeting Monday. "If the supporters for the bill can come in and show it is not an exercise in futility I certainly wouldn't hold it back."
Emler also said he did not expect the tenor of the Senate would change much. The chamber — which has 40 members compared to 125 in the House — is typically viewed as the more sedate and deliberative chamber.