Moderate Republicans plan to fight back against tax plan

by Dennis SharkeyIn Kansas the biggest elections during the 2012 election cycle are in August not November.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and ultraconservative Republicans rode a wave of momentum in 2010 but have since faced the usual push back from Democrats and some of their own party.

Hoping to further lead that push back is Kansas Senate President Stephen Morris, R-Hugoton. Morris, like many other moderate Republicans in the Senate, is facing a primary challenge from the far right. Organizations like the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Tea Party groups have Morris as one of their top targets for defeat.

Morris and other moderates have deep concerns about the new tax cut law that was passed and signed by the governor.

“I’m very concerned about what was passed,” Morris told the newspaper last week. “It’s a very expensive bill and there’s a lot of things in there we did not like.”

Morris said the Kansas House passed a version of Brownback’s bill before sending it over to the Senate. Once in the Senate Morris said a lot of work was done on the bill like adding back in a deduction for mortgage holders.

Also added back into the bill by the Senate was the repeal of a sales tax increase of one cent in 2010 to help make up for budget shortfalls. Morris said citizens were promised the tax was temporary.

“It made the bill even worse by the time we made those changes,” he said.

Morris said Brownback convinced the Senate to pass the bill so it could go back to the House and a conference committee could be formed to hammer out the details.

Once both houses pass a piece of legislation with different language the bill is sent to a committee made up of members of both houses to negotiate an agreement between the two bills.

Morris said once the Senate passed the bill Brownback turned the tables and had the House pass the Senate’s version of the bill so that it could be fast-tracked to his desk and skip the conference committee.

“I took him at his word and we reconsidered,” Morris said about passing the bill. “He double-crossed us. We assumed the chief executive of the state would keep his word.”

Morris said state coffers will not be affected by the law in 2013 but things will drastically change the following year. He cited a study that showed a $270 million deficit in 2014 that will balloon to between $2.7 and $2.9 billion by 2018.

“To me that would be devastating to not just schools but every function of government,” he said.

Numbers being quoted by different studies are also being questioned by opponents of the tax law. Morris said he saw a figure that said Kansas would have to create 500,000 jobs to make up for the revenue shortfalls.

“That’s somewhat unrealistic,” he said.

Brownback has also laid out a preliminary plan to restructure the state’s school financing formula. From what Morris has seen school district officials have reason to worry.

Morris, who spent 16 years as a school board member acknowledged that it is hard for districts to plan for the future.

“I think they should be concerned,” Morris about school board members.

“I don’t know what to tell them on planning,” he added. “It will be a struggle going forward.”

Morris said lawmakers may have to be more worried about what the state’s court system may do. Last year the state faced a $500 million deficit. He said school district officials knew the troubles the state was facing.

This year the state will end with about $500 in surplus. Morris said it will be hard for the courts to ignore what lawmakers have done.

“For us to not do very much for education and pass that dramatic tax cut I think the courts are going to hammer us,” Morris said.

When the current formula was approved nearly 20 years ago the base state aid stood at $3,600 per student. Base state aid for the 2011-12 school year was $3,780 per student.

Morris said moderates have an uphill battle with the primary. Typically primary races have considerably less turnout than general elections. He said ultraconservative candidates will fare better with a low turnout.

“It’s a question of getting our message out,” Morris said. “It’s also a question of turnout. “

One advantage that Morris sees is the new maps that were drawn by federal judges last month.

The House and Senate both passed maps out of each respective house but House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, balked at the Senate map which set up the showdown.

Morris said it was the first time in the history of the U.S. that one house of a state has objected to the other house’s map. He believes the courts saw those actions and acted appropriately.

“The court took a pretty dim view of that and consequently I think they made significant changes in the House map because of it.”

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Posted by on Jul 18 2012. Filed under County News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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