Lawmakers grew increasingly frustrated over a lack of action during a rare work day Saturday as the Legislature marked the 106th day of session — among the longest in state history.
Negotiations over the details of a new school finance formula continued, but there was no public progress made on the shape of a tax plan to help pay for new school spending or to close a budget shortfall projected at almost $900 million over the next two fiscal years.
Lawmakers worked their first weekend of this year’s session in hopes of making progress toward ending their marathon, though it quickly became apparent that the House and Senate would continue to work into the coming week. Both houses ruled out floor action on taxes or schools until Sunday afternoon at the earliest.
Some lawmakers complained late Friday about the Legislature’s pace as the sessions grinds on.
Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican, said on the floor Friday that he wanted Senate leaders to “get us to the end here,” and vented his feelings to fellow lawmakers. If lawmakers were going to work this weekend, Olson said, he’d like to see more work being done all day and have legislators “be serious.”
“I’m to the point where I don’t want to come in and vote on the two bills we did, and two conference committee reports that are meaningless,” Olson said. “I want to spend time with my family.”
Olson said he didn’t want to drive into work only to head home in the afternoon and asked lawmakers to “stop half-daying it” and work lengthier days to find a way to “get out of here.”
“Let’s get this done,” he said. “And that’s all I ask because I don’t want to keep coming up here. I know you don’t either and I don’t know anybody that enjoys this. But I just feel like we’re not ending the debate.”
Asked Saturday if there were frustrations in the Capitol, Senate President Susan Wagle said, “Oh, absolutely.”
“I think it’s very hard to be here on a weekend and for people to be away from their family,” said Wagle, a Wichita Republican.
Despite agreeing to work Saturday, and later being told the House and Senate would work Sunday, no major policy changes were pushed across the floor for a vote.
“It can have a positive effect in that people are more willing to compromise when they can’t get home to their family,” Wagle said of the weekend work. “And it can have a negative effect with others who dig in, so it can work both ways.”
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, cited the House when explaining the slow pace.
“The Senate’s got its work done for the most part,” Denning said. “Just waiting on the House.”
Several lawmakers said Saturday they were encouraged by a tax plan developed by a bipartisan group of women in the Legislature.
That plan, which those involved said would bring in an estimated $600 million a year during future fiscal years, would raise income tax rates, brings back a third rate and ends Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax exemption for certain business owners.
Legislators who worked on crafting the plan said it would also phase in forms of tax relief through a child care tax credit and a mortgage interest itemized deduction, along with other programs and deductions in future tax years.
“We are looking for something that is a sweet spot that those of us who have been adamant nos can move on and the people who have been yeses can stay yeses on,” Rep. Patsy Terrell, a Hutchinson Democrat, said.
Though different tax proposals have been floated in recent days, none were brought up for debate Saturday.
“It’s our turn,” House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, said about the Senate’s criticism. “They sent us over a tax package that their body wants. So it’s our turn to send one to them.”
Ryckman said it’s understandable for people to be frustrated.
“We want to solve our problems and we want to go home,” Ryckman said.
Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat, called the pace of progress “awful.” Lawmakers need to do more of their work earlier in the session, she said.
“We really need to do a better job as stewards of the people and do our work on time,” she said.