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LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: House working with budget proposal

Rep., 70th District

The income tax bill, House Substitute for SB 177, was heard March 13 on the floor of the House. It would completely eliminate the income tax, and I still oppose that concept. I imagine, however, that we who oppose this bill will be accused of wanting to grow government, which is nonsense. It’s a tax bill chock full of bad tax policy, in my judgment. That’s why I voted “no.”

Numerous amendments modified the bill and truly made it less awful, but that’s kind of like putting lipstick on a pig. In my view, the underlying bill is fatally flawed, and no amount of lipstick can pretty it up. It passed, 68-56.

Last week’s other big issue was the budget. The March budget measure, which we call the mega budget, is designed to do two things: first, reconcile the 2012 budget — actual income paired up with actual spending for this fiscal year. Second, it starts hammering out spending issues for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The Appropriations Committee works from Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed budget and modifies it to its liking, then it brings it to the whole House for working. On Friday, we wrangled with it (SB 294) on the House floor from 11 a.m. until about 6:15 p.m. We voted on it in Final Action on Monday, and I voted “yes,” believing on the whole it accomplishes many things for which I advocate.

In the veto session, we will work on an omnibus budget taking into account the April Consensus Revenue Estimates, and again we can advocate for spending cuts and targeted increases in spending.

One matter we need to reconcile is a proviso in the mega budget that won’t fund the LAVTR property tax relief we just mandated. The appropriations bill came out of committee before we passed the LAVTR relief, and we expect to reconcile that in the omnibus budget during the veto session. It is not “front burner” in the mega budget.

You might recall the House operates under a “pay-go” rule, meaning that the committee’s mega budget proposal contains the total dollars we’re allowed to spend, and if someone wants to fix an improper cut (as you’ll see below), that legislator must propose a corresponding cut somewhere else in the budget.

Good concept, but giving 12 hand-picked House members (a majority of the 23 member Appropriations Committee) control of that ceiling concerns me. It’s still the rule we operate under again this year, and pay-go does help hold down the spending — that part I like.

Here are a couple of highlights in our mega budget debate:

In his budget, Brownback had proposed some additional spending for schools; the Appropriations Committee, however, proposed to cut $29 million, thinking that schools had enough in their own accounts already.

Indeed some schools have surplus funds they’ve saved back, but many have no cushion, and the cut would likely alter the way all schools conduct business. For most legislators, including me, that cut was a non-starter and it appeared this issue might sink the entire budget.

Most legislators seemed to understand just how damaging the cut would be to all Kansas communities. Well, by the time we were done with debating this matter, the education money was back in the budget and was removed from transportation’s budget (pay-go in action). Hopefully, the Senate might straighten that out and restore the funds for the highway projects.

The budget initially contained grossly insufficient funding for community mental health centers. We’re trying to keep the mentally ill folks out of jails and prisons, but without sufficient funding to assist them in our mental health centers, we have no hope of saving jail and prison beds, which are expensive.

Ultimately this expense saves us money, as well as being the right thing to do, and I voted for it (with a corresponding cut elsewhere). It’s still insufficient, but better that what we had.

You may email me at: Brookens70@sbcglobal.net or write me at either 201 Meadow Lane, Marion, KS 66861 or Kansas State Capitol Building, 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612; or call me at (620) 382-2133 or (785) 296-7636.

Last modified March 22, 2012

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