Redistricting holds Topeka hostage

5/17/2012

The Kansas Constitution sets the numbers of days for the legislative session at 90. On Friday, the Legislature hit the 90th day, but key issues are still on the table.

The Legislature began session with an aggressive agenda knowing the goal was to reform KPERS, redraw maps, pass a budget with a healthy ending balance and reform income tax policy within this limited timetable. Throughout the 15 weeks of the Legislative session, the House diligently discussed and negotiated each of these issues and will continue to push for what's right for Kansans.

Redistricting continues to hold everything else hostage.

Every 10 years, redistricting becomes a constitutional responsibility for the Legislature. It is critical that legislators pass these maps rather than relinquishing their responsibilities to the courts.

This week, the House held public hearings regarding state House, Senate and Board of Education district maps.

After 15 weeks of the Senate refusing to pass an equitable map that represents the best interest of Kansans, the House has a duty to move forward to pass redistricting plans for both chambers as to allow time for the mandatory review by the Kansas Supreme Court.

The Senate map the House adopted was proposed by Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, with slight changes in committee at the request of senators.

All amendments offered were rejected because they did not have the support of incumbent senators whose districts they impacted.

The only congressional map was killed by the Senate, and senators have stated repeatedly they would work on completing a congressional map. To date, the Senate has not passed a congressional redistricting map.

The House is concerned with the lack of action on congressional redistricting maps. My fear is the Senate would rather let the courts draw the maps then taking the responsibility of being fair to their fellow senators.

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The "Iron Rule of Government," is the theory a government will not let funds sit idly by -- they will always be spent whether it is on tax cuts, education, infrastructure, public safety or a variety of other far-less-notable priorities. A combination of increased revenue collections and responsible budgeting practices has resulted in the state bank account achieving a sizable ending balance in a relatively short window of time.

This leaves us with a rare opportunity to return wealth to citizens in the form of meaningful growth oriented tax cuts.

Another important aspect of SB177 is property tax relief through reinstatement of the local ad valorem tax reduction fund, which has not been in effect since 2003.

Kansans are being crushed by a growing property tax burden. From 1997 to 2011, Kansas homeowners and businesses saw a 94 percent increase in their property taxes; from less than $2 billion to more than $3.8 billion.

Such dramatic tax increases suppress economic growth and prosperity.

From what I have heard, from most people in western Kansas they would favor property tax relief over income tax relief. At this point, if there is going to be a tax package it will be decided during the extra days of this year's session.

Rick Billinger, Goodland, represents the 121st District in the Kansas House. rick.bilinger@house.ks.gov

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