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LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: Living with new tax reality

Representative, 70th District

What a week! We started May 14, and finally put the 2012 legislative session to bed at 6:42 p.m. Sunday. Yup, Sunday. Here’s a huge “thank you” to my wife Anita and to Suzanne Thole for leading the choir in my absence.

“That tax bill” I referred to in last week’s column is found in HB 2117 and is sitting on the governor’s desk. He states he will sign the “pro growth tax formula” and that it will leave $1.5 billion in the hands of Kansas taxpayers in the next two years; that’s how much of a cut he predicts.

Nearly everyone was hoping an alternative tax cut plan could be developed that would provide an economic stimulus and yet not be so reckless as HB 2117. Gov. Sam Brownback even had indicated he would prefer a less aggressive tax bill, but he also stated if he had no other bill brought to him, he would sign this one.

In last week’s column I noted HB 2117 was initially passed by the Senate so it would have a bill “conference-able” with the House tax committee. What I did not mention and did not recall when writing last week’s column was the Senate had soundly voted down HB 2117 in March, and Brownback spoke to senators asking them to reconsider it, asserting the Senate would be able to go into conference with the House tax committee. On a motion to reconsider the vote, a number of Senators then changed their votes on HB 2117 to “yes” so it could pass. Well, as I indicated last week, it’s going to become law.

At this juncture, I submit there’s no point belaboring the issue any longer. At least in the short haul and for the sake of Kansas, it looks like we all need to become advocates of supply-side economics in the fervent hope that the tax cuts provide the promised economic growth and expansion of state revenues before they decimate the state budget and the vital state programs most Kansans believe in. While time will give us the true answer, that is a hope we ought to embrace. I didn’t get the tax package I advocated for; it’s time to give it up, at least until the legislature goes back to work.

We also passed a Kansas Public Employees Retirement System reform bill and sent it to the governor for his signature. It creates a new benefit class (we call it Tier 3), and changes the pension plan for newly hired employees. The idea is to provide a reasonable but fiscally responsible retirement plan for new hires, and at the same time begin to address the problem of the large unfunded actuarial liability in the present KPERS system.

I am pleased we could find common ground, and we have now started down the path toward a fiscally sound KPERS system. Here’s a link, if you want to read more: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2011_12/measures/documents/supp_note_hb2333_04_0000.pdf.

The budget has proven to be the least contentious of the big-ticket items this session. It is certainly not an extravagant budget and has many components with which I agree. Every budget also contains items every legislator dislikes, and I too disagree with some of its components. My biggest issue: the House developed its positions in light of the new tax cut plan in HB 2117, a tax plan I believe is not sound. I know it will be my new reality, but I simply object to our budget falling in line with a tax plan I view as harmful; so I voted “no,” more in protest than with any expectation of defeating it. That said, I believe it is about as good a budget as we could expect under these circumstances.

With respect to redistricting and elections, politics reared its ugly head early in the process and never left us, and many competing maps have been drawn. One House map is fairly universally accepted, but the same cannot be said for Senate or congressional maps. Because things were so contentious throughout the process, the legislature failed to pass any maps. The matter will now be settled by the courts, and no one seems to know how that will work, or when. The filing deadline for state races has already been pushed back from June 1 to June 11, and it is possible the August primaries would be pushed back from the first Tuesday in August to a later date. Watch your local paper for the answer.

You may e-mail me at Brookens70@sbcglobal.net, write me at 201 Meadow Lane, Marion, KS 66861, or call me at (620) 382-2133. The session is over, and I’m back in Marion full-time. My Marion office staff should be able to find me.

Last modified May 23, 2012

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