Prairie Politics

No end in sight for Kansas Legislature’s wrap-up session

Kansas House Taxation Committee Chairman Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, right, confers with Rep. Jerry Lunn, R-Overland Park, during the chamber's session last week at the Statehouse in Topeka. (May 21, 2015)
Kansas House Taxation Committee Chairman Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, right, confers with Rep. Jerry Lunn, R-Overland Park, during the chamber's session last week at the Statehouse in Topeka. (May 21, 2015) Associated Press

The Kansas Legislature’s wrap-up session has stretched into a fifth week with no clear end in sight, as majority Republicans struggle to build a consensus on budget and tax policy.

If lawmakers don’t act quickly there could be consequences for state workers.

“The governor will have to make some decisions very soon on who’s essential, who’s not, if we don’t find a way to govern,” said Rep. Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

Furloughs for state workers could be necessary by mid-June if the Legislature does not pass a budget before then, according to the Legislative Research Department.

One cloud that hangs over the process is the Kansas Chamber of Commerce’s opposition to raising taxes, which lawmakers will likely need to do in order to fill a budget hole of more than $400 million.

The chamber is a major supporter of Republican candidates, spending about $600,000 in the last election, helping Republicans expand their supermajority in the House. However, in committee hearings in recent weeks, the chamber has repeatedly criticized GOP lawmakers for not doing more to curb spending and turning to tax increases to fill the budget hole.

Ryckman and Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, who chairs the House Taxation Committee, met privately with the chamber’s lobbyist, Eric Stafford, Tuesday morning.

After the meeting, Stafford offered few details, but said that the legislative leaders and the chamber were not on the same page.

The chamber has strongly opposed efforts to roll back a tax exemption that allows the owners of certain businesses, such as limited liability corporations, to pay no tax on their income. It has quietly supported a sales tax increase as an alternative.

Ryckman didn’t share specific details about the closed door meeting either.

“We are working with as many partners as we can to try and find a solution to the revenue situation we’re in and getting input from all stakeholders,” Ryckman said.

Ryckman said that lawmakers from across the political spectrum were slowing the process by refusing to make compromises.

“When one side is willing to work and one side is not, you talk to the side that’s willing to work. And so we have a lot of people who taken themselves out of the conversation right now,” Ryckman said, arguing that some lawmakers are opposing possible solutions for fear of political fallout.

“You talk to people who can find a way to get to ‘Yes,’ because we have some big decisions that are going to have to happen in a short amount of time,” Ryckman said. “We’ve got payroll to meet, tax policy to set, so we need people who are willing to govern.”

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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