In Kansas?

Syndicated to Kansas newspapers Feb. 27, 2017
Martin HawverWell, what have we here? A moderate Republican/Democrat majority in the Kansas House, and maybe, just maybe, in the Senate?
And we’re still in Kansas.
The keys were, of course, some votes in the House last week, where Democrats who in recent years had probably considered forming a support group after losing votes on issues found that they had an apparently solid—so far—core of maybe 35 moderate Republicans to vote with them on bills.
The so-called moderate coalition doesn’t run things, but it has enough votes on tax, Medicaid expansion and labor-ish issues to determine just what can be passed or killed in the House.
The Senate? Not quite so much. There is a moderate coalition in that chamber, but it hasn’t been fully tested. Example: The Senate passed the tax increase bill that the House’s moderate coalition voted over to it, but without enough votes to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of the bill.
But…it’s early.
The relatively dramatic shift in the House and the Senate came at last year’s GOP primary elections, where some of each chamber’s most conservative Republicans were defeated, and in a case or two, at the general election where Democrats picked up seats in both chambers. It was an election where most Republicans weren’t running pictures on their campaign ads and flyers of them within arm’s reach of Brownback.
The governor, as conservative as they come, is having to wrestle with the Legislature led by Republicans—but not his style of conservative Republicans.
That moderate Republican/Democrat coalition, well it’s shown strength on passing from the House bills expanding Medicaid (we call it KanCare here), putting due process back in the business of firing experienced schoolteachers, and of course, the tax business.
After the House overrode and the Senate sustained the tax bill veto, both chambers introduced different tax bills needed to balance state finances for the upcoming two years. Each introduced a bill that would increase income tax rates and/or brackets and restart taxing the non-wage income of members of LLCs and some other small business formations.
And…each chamber introduced in bill form the governor’s tax plan, which boosts taxes on liquor, cigarettes, raises some fees and raises less than half the revenue that the Legislature-thought-up tax bills do.
Why would they do that?
It’s to get the governor’s attention. His tax plan doesn’t raise enough money for the state and those Brownback bills are widely believed to be the tool that lawmakers may have to use to show the governor that he is out of sync with the Republican-led and moderate Republican/Democrat dominated Legislature. Another veto, and leaders put his plan up for a vote, defeat it with big enough margins to embarrass Brownback, and then make clear that they are prepared to take control of state government through overriding his vetoes.
This Republican governor/Republican legislature split is going to be solved, somehow, this session because the state needs to make up the $325 million deficit to end the fiscal year and to put in place a tax plan that won’t require House members to vote to raise taxes on their constituents in the spring of the year in which they will seek their votes in the fall.
Where do Democrats land in all of this? Surprisingly, probably because of the governor’s stance on taxes, they get a little more latitude to raise income tax rates on all Kansans, not just those LCCs that nearly everyone wants to tax.
This moderate majority we’ve all heard about has taken its first laps around the track, and we’re interested in where it goes from here…

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