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LegislatorsState legislators met with the public on May 4 at the West Wyandotte Library, Kansas City, Kan. From left were Sen. David Haley, Rep Tom Burroughs, Rep. Louis Ruiz, Rep. Stan Frownfelter, Rep. Valdenia Winn and Sen. Steve Fitzgerald. (Staff photo)
State legislators attending the “Coffee and Conversation” meeting May 4 were challenged on whether they will work toward a compromise in Topeka.
Raising the challenge about compromise, the sales tax and revenues toward the end of the public meeting was J.D. Rios, a trustee of Kansas City Kansas Community College and a school principal in the Kansas City, Kan., district. The legislative meeting at the West Wyandotte Library was sponsored by the Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m not hearing a spirit of compromise,” Rios told the legislators. While the economy has improved, it is not yet a healthy economy, he added. “We’re still in the hard times.”
Legislators talked about how the extension of the sales tax, an issue that will come up when legislators return next week to Topeka, is more difficult for low- and middle-class incomes. The sales tax extension is being proposed in order to continue to bring in revenues allowing the governor to lower the state’s income tax, a move that will most benefit the wealthiest, according to the Democratic legislators present.
The governor and some GOP leaders say the move to drop the income tax will encourage companies to move to Kansas and create more jobs. The governor also toured Kansas colleges recently, saying the passage of the sales tax would allow funding to remain stable for colleges.
With a Republican majority in the state House and Senate and a Republican in the governor’s office, some Wyandotte County Democratic legislators remarked that they have been told that their votes aren’t needed. House leaders want to cut the budget another 4 percent, while Senate leaders want to cut the budget 2 percent. Educators are concerned that education funding could be at risk. There are hardly any negotiations now with the Democrats, and not much compromise is going on, according to legislators.
“In my two decades, I’ve never seen it like this before,” Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., said.
Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-33rd Dist., said in 2009, a compromise was reached on the sales tax, and an agreement was made to continue transportation funding and to support education with the funds. There were many transportation and education jobs created, he said.
“The difference today is the recession Kansas is in today is self-imposed because of revenue cuts,” he said. The cuts put a larger burden on the middle class, he said. Cuts were proposed to programs including the earned income tax credit and the home mortgage deduction, in order to decrease the income tax. Elimination of the prevailing wage ordinance means that families will not be able to afford college for their kids, will not be able to afford to go out to eat and support the new businesses here, and will not be able to afford to buy the goods produced here, according to Rep. Burroughs.
“We’ve made our compromise, only to have it stolen from us,” Rep. Burroughs said. He discussed the end of Wyandotte County’s prevailing wage ordinance, which had required employers who get tax breaks to give jobs or contracts to a percentage of minorities and local residents. “I don’t want to be like Texas or Oklahoma. I want my Kansas back. I want that prosperity we started four years ago to be returned to Kansas. It’s time for everybody to pay a fair share. I won’t be supporting a tax increase.”
Rep. Louis Ruiz, D-31st Dist., agreed. He said legislators compromised several years ago, but when they go back, compromise is done. “They’ve got their numbers,” he said about the votes that are lined up on the other side. Democratic legislators try to compromise but feel beat up, he remarked.
“We compromise for the good of the working class and middle class,” said Rep. Val Winn, D-34th Dist. But she’s not particularly inclined to compromise on matters that will benefit the wealthy. She outlined some past efforts to compromise this year, where the other side was “very rigid.” The current situation in the House is that the Republicans state they can pass any bill they want, she said, which means they do not have to compromise.
Currently, the Legislature doesn’t have to make cuts, according to the Democratic legislators attending the meeting.
“There was a $500 million surplus, and we said don’t make those drastic cuts,” Rep. Winn said. Cuts were made hoping that there would be job growth. “The jobs haven’t come. Let’s reconsider the tax cuts.”
Rep. Winn said she will vote no on the sales tax, because now it doesn’t guarantee that any of the sales tax revenues will go to higher education. In 2009, some of the sales tax funds were promised for education.
Recently Gov. Sam Brownback toured Kansas colleges and announced he is supporting maintaining his proposed budget for education. The House is considering greater cuts to that budget. The governor also spoke in favor of maintaining the funding for KU Medical Center by keeping the sales tax in place.
Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-5th Dist., said it is possible that the House, which wanted a 4 percent cut, would compromise with the Senate, which wanted a 2 percent cut. Perhaps they would settle on 3 percent. But he said the state government wasn’t in gridlock, it was working through the issues.
Cindy Cash, Kansas City, Kan., Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, had asked legislators how they were going to vote on the sales tax extension, possible cuts to the University of Kansas Cancer Center and National Cancer Institute designation, and other budget issues when the session resumes next week.
Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D-37th Dist., said these cuts could put the KU Cancer Center’s NCI designation in jeopardy. He supported keeping the funding for the center, which he said would encourage a lot of economic development in Kansas.
Sen. Haley said he supported funding to the KU Cancer Center. He said he was averse to continuing the sales tax. He said local businesses are less competitive and are losing business to Missouri retailers because of this one-cent sales tax.
Rep. Frownfelter said they may only get a “concur-nonconcur” vote, with a simple approval vote, on any proposal.
Sen. Fitzgerald said legislative committees had been trying to get institutions to account for their funding. He also said it was possible that KU was given a total amount that might be cut, and administrators decided to say the cuts would be to the most important things that everyone wants to keep. “We’re being played,” he said. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s part of the game.”
It will be difficult to get the sales tax through the House, which wants more budget cuts, he said, but the Senate would probably approve the sales tax. A conference committee will try to iron out differences.
Rios made his remarks to the legislators after hearing them blame the other parties for whatever was wrong.
“We have inherited what we got, and we’re either going to fix it or be part of the problem,” Rios told the legislators.