A grinding day at the Kansas Legislature suddenly turned dramatic Saturday night when Gov. Sam Brownback made a bid to end the session with a broad plan to settle major issues dividing lawmakers.
Brownback’s staff revealed Saturday night that the Senate — a stumbling block to some of the governor’s key issues — had rejected a so-called global solution for settling four major issues fracturing the Legislature.
“It’s more difficult to put together a global solution than it is to put together individual pieces,” said Senate Vice President John Vratil, a Leawood Republican.
The Republican governor offered a deal that would have put $77 million more into education, along with the compromise tax plan that the Senate set aside Friday.
The governor’s Hail Mary toss also called for several new redistricting plans, including one that would have created a new Senate district that would’ve stretched into southern Johnson County, which tends to be more conservative.
Legislative officials said the proposed Senate plan also would have substantially changed Senate districts in Leavenworth County, which is now represented by Democrats.
“The governor believed it was fair compromise on the remaining issues before the Kansas Legislature,” said Sherriene Jones-Sontag, the governor’s spokeswoman.
Senate President Steve Morris said there had been talks with the governor Saturday about yet another revised tax plan, but they didn’t go very far.
“We’ve been concerned all along about the welfare of the state,” said Morris, a Hugoton Republican. “We’re concerned about making a decision long term.”
Morris said the state should approach tax cuts cautiously, especially since the state is enjoying revenue surpluses for the first time in several years.
He said the state can’t necessarily count on the assumptions about growth built into the tax-cut projections, nor can it necessarily expect savings from the governor’s proposed Medicaid reform, which hasn’t been approved by the federal government.
“We don’t know what the future is,” Morris said.
Meanwhile, the Legislature continued to meet late into the night Saturday as lawmakers grappled over the state’s proposed $14 billion budget.
Lawmakers worked for hours, holding intermittent meetings throughout the day, trying to reach an accord on several issues, including school funding.
The Senate and House disagree over how much money to put into schools. The Senate wants $77 million. The House wants to put in $50 million.
The Senate wanted to take the money from general taxes. The House wanted to take it from the state highway fund.
But by 8 p.m. Saturday, a conference committee negotiating the budget deal had been unable to arrival at an agreement.
Still, some school advocates were hopeful that the Legislature would add money for schools before the session ends, which could be today.
“I think both the House and the Senate indicated they want to significantly increase funding,” said Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards.
“We certainly hope they will find a way to get between where the House and Senate originally were.”
The Brownback plan to end the session again raised the issues presented by a massive tax-cutting plan that awaits his signature.
Although Brownback said he is willing to sign a plan that critics say will severely hurt state services, he signaled again Saturday that he prefers the compromise, even if it’s not as aggressive as the one on his desk.
“I thought it was a better path overall,” Brownback told reporters Saturday morning after meeting with House Republicans.
“It had an easier glide path,” he said. “It gets to the same point.”
The plan the Legislature sent to the governor will cost roughly $3.7 billion over five years. Financial projections show it will leave the state with a $242 million deficit by as early as 2013-14, growing to $2.5 billion by 2017-18.
Brownback said Saturday he didn’t think deep tax cuts would leave the state in a financial wreck.
“I think we’re going to be in good shape,” Brownback said.
“We’re going to be holding spending down every bit we can. We’re going to make sure we fund our core functions well. We’re going to be constricting areas to be as efficient as we possibly can.”
The Senate on Friday derailed a tax plan that was estimated to cost about $2.6 billion less than the plan sent to the governor.