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May 11, 2012
TOPEKA As the second week of the Legislature's wrap-up session drew to a close today, House and Senate budget negotiators continued to chip away slowly at several dozen differences in their respective spending plans but did not reach a deal.
The lack of a settled budget assured that lawmakers will be back at it Monday with some at the Statehouse optimistic that the session will finally end Wednesday. It was scheduled to end today, its 90th day.
Also today, Kansas Senate GOP leaders began talking publicly about the factional "war" they are in with the governor and the House. And the governor talked at a press conference about his excitement over a tax bill he has pledged to sign that critics say would leave the state budget deep in the red, if it actually becomes law.
The governor predicted the bill would spur job growth and fuel the state economy to levels of growth it hasn't seen in a decade.
"This really puts the gas in the system for us to be able to move forward. I'm excited about this," Brownback said of the tax bill approved by House members on Wednesday. The Senate approved it earlier in the year, but few, if any, at the time expected it could actually make it through the process.
New projections released Friday showed the plan would leave the state budget in the hole between $2.5 billion and $2.9 billion by 2018.
"We can make this work. We will make this work," Brownback said, acknowledging he would have preferred a tax-cut package that didn't cut as much or as fast.
The governor said the budget gap the bill is expected to produce would be closed by greater-than-expected revenues thanks to the economic growth it would spark and tight control on future state spending.
The likelihood of an alternate tax plan being approved at this late stage of the session seemed remote on Friday, particularly given the tensions between GOP leaders in the Senate and the governor. Senate leaders have said any of the tax-cut alternatives so far endorsed by the governor would undermine the budget and force cuts in school spending and other programs they consider essential.
"It's a war," said Senate President Steve Morris, describing the animosity that is now a matter of open discussion after passage of the tax bill. "The very conservative wing of our party would like to have sort of a grand slam so that everyone would be in lock stop throughout the executive and legislative branches and no one would ever question anything."
Senate leaders said they passed the tax bill at the urging of the governor with the understanding it would not become law unaltered. But the governor said he had never given assurances that the tax bill they passed earlier in the session as a bargaining chip would not become law.
"I've not made those assurances," Brownback said. "What I did say was 'Look,if you don't pass a (different) tax bill, this is the option that is there and we can make it work and will.
"I'm not at war with anybody," he said. "I'm here to help the people of Kansas and get us on growth. We lost a decade. We can't have another decade like that. And this week is just a big step forward. Maybe other people look at in a different way. It's what I ran on."
Morris said the tax plan would mean "drastic" cuts in public school spending and other programs.
"It can't be good," he said. "I'm not an expert on supply-side economics, but I do remember during the Reagan administration a lot of discussion that supply-side economics would trickle down and be beneficial to the country, but we now have a $15 trillion (federal) deficit."
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