LEGISLATIVE UPDATE:   House working on budget

Representative, 74th District

At this time, we have only two weeks left in regular session and things move very fast. It becomes almost impossible to follow bills and issues. I spend a fair amount of time simply looking up bills to see what has happened and to find out if the bill numbers have changed. That is something that also happens this time of year which makes tracking much more difficult.

This week we had a marathon session on the House floor debating an abortion bill for almost two hours and then spending all afternoon on the House budget. The House budget this year is a 512-page document with many parts. A budget is always very difficult to vote on because it is nearly impossible to know exactly what is in a document that large.

We all have our areas of interest that we check on. However, there are many other parts that we should know about but simply have to trust that the Appropriations committee has used common sense to take care of business.

The proposed House budget for the state general fund is more than $200 million lower than last year. The large tax cut from last year is starting to kick in so budgets have to be cut or revenues increased. Our tax bill that passed in the House provides very little revenue to backfill last year’s large tax reductions. Tax bills usually attract amendments of various kinds, so anything having to do with revenues is fair game.

The tax bill as proposed allows the Department of Transportation to keep .4 cent of the 1 cent sales tax while removing the remaining .6 cent. It also reduces by 24 percent the amount of deduction on the mortgage interest and several other items. There are always some minor adjustments that have to be made when tax rates change.

In other news, the bill that would allow the sale of liquor in grocery stores was tabled in the House federal and state committee on Monday. There is a companion bill in the Senate that may make progress, but it will likely be more difficult to move it along knowing what happened in the House.

About a week ago the bill to end the renewable portfolio standards in Kansas was sent back to committee, and Tuesday the bill was tabled in the energy committee. Typically, but not always, tabling a bill kills it.

We had a hearing in the ag committee Friday on a corporate farming bill. The bill will not be considered this session but is being sent for judicial review as there may be some constitutional issues with current law and more information is desired before moving further on this issue. This is an important issue for agriculture so my hope is to take the time needed to really consider the corporate farming issue rather than hurry something along too quickly.

We have many bills teed up for possible action in the next week. Everything from county fairs to human trafficking to court fees and civil procedure are on the list. At this point, there are three pages of bills waiting possible action in the House. Worth noting is that apparently the attempt to change teacher negotiations was ended Friday, but remains in place for the 2014 session.

By the end of this week, we expect the House and Senate to have both budgets and tax plans in position to conference. I have mentioned before that the differences between House and Senate positions have to be worked out and agreed to by both sides. If the House or Senate fails to pass both a budget and a tax bill, the whole process could be delayed and extend the session. Everyone is getting somewhat weary of the long work days so we can only hope that does not occur, but we also know to expect the unexpected.

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