TOPEKA — Sen. Caryn Tyson clicked on a microphone Tuesday in a large meeting room at the Capitol to draw the attention of assembled legislators, lobbyists and concerned citizens.
The Parker Republican’s announcement about fate of the scheduled 9:30 a.m. tax negotiation session of House and Senate wheeler-dealers drew a few told-you-so chuckles, as well as pointed commentary from two youthful political analysts.
“The conference committee has been rescheduled for 1 o’clock,” said Tyson, who is among six lawmakers assigned to work out a compromise on tax and budget policy.
Coleson Reinecker, 10, Inman, captured frustration resulting from six months of legislative indecision.
That indecision has resulted in a state budget deficit surpassing $400 million.
“You’re not doing anything,” Coleson Reinecker said.
His 9-year-old brother nodded affirmation.
“We sat here for nothing,” Nathan Reinecker said.
Rep. John Edmonds, R-Great Bend, said the youngsters’ remarks accurately reflected political gridlock following Republicans, Democrats and Gov. Sam Brownback around like a paranormal shadow.
“I’d say they understand the process,” Edmonds said.
As the clock approached 1 p.m. Tuesday, negotiators revealed the negotiators wouldn’t convene until 4 p.m. And, not unexpectedly, that was postponed until 6 p.m.
Legislative sessions in Kansas are scheduled to last no more than 90 days, but bipartisan opposition to raising state taxes has pushed the annual gathering to the 110th day. It is the longest session in state history.
Both chambers and Brownback averted a partial government shutdown and the furlough of 24,000 state employees Saturday by passing a bill that kept those workers on the job without a guarantee they would be promptly paid.
On Sunday, the Republican-dominated Senate voted 21-17 to approve a bill that would trigger the largest tax increase in state history.
Combined with a $47 million tax increase already adopted for managed care organizations, the Senate’s bill would generate $423 million in new revenue. The $470 million package would close the deficit and leave a modest cushion if unexpected cash-flow problems emerged through June 2016.
Under the Senate measure, the state’s sales tax would rise from 6.15 percent to 6.55 percent, the state’s cigarette tax would rise by $40 million, cuts to individual income tax rates would be delayed, every state sales tax exemption would vaporize in four years, cities and counties would be blocked from adopting property tax increases without a public vote and the value of most itemized deductions would be slashed.
The deal protects most of the income tax break handed 330,000 businesses in 2012, a law touted by Brownback as a vehicle for supply-side economic growth in Kansas.
Brownback endorsed the Senate’s tax reform bill, but the GOP-led House skipped a debate Monday on the proposal when it became clear the chamber was well short of 63 votes needed to send it to the governor. It appears Brownback administration allies are pressuring House members to vote on that deal.
In a strange turn of events, Sen. Mike O’Donnell, a Wichita Republican who voted for the Senate’s tax bill, has lobbied House Republicans to reject the measure.
“They’re fighting among themselves,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. “They have never chose to reach across the aisle to talk to Democrats.”
He said the GOP-all-the-way blueprint reflected the approach taken by Brownback in May 2011 when the Legislature was struggling to pass a new budget. The governor met with the GOP House caucus to urge support for the bill and resist the temptation to compromise with Democrats on the issue.
“Show the state of Kansas that Republicans can govern and they can govern as a team,” Brownback said at that time.
On Monday evening, the governor’s budget director told a gathering of Republican legislators the alternative to the Senate bill that raised taxes could be an across-the-board cut of 6.2 percent at every state agency and program.
Budget director Shawn Sullivan, according to an Associated Press report, shared details of the impact with more than two-dozen House Republicans after the chamber declined to debate the Senate bill.
Sullivan said K-12 public schools would lose $197 million, Medicaid health care providers would see payments drop by 7.5 percent to 8.5 percent and employees in the state prison system would be cut.
“That would be real unfortunate,” said Rep. Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat on the tax conference committee. “It would hurt schools and put public safety at risk.”