Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Radio covering health, education and politics.
The Kansas Legislature narrowly passed a two-year state budget over the weekend and wrapped up the 2013 legislative session.
The single biggest responsibility lawmakers have every year is to pass a state budget. It was questionable whether this proposal could pass the House. The chamber’s leadership was putting pressure on Republicans to pass the budget, saying if they didn’t pass one over the weekend the state could miss payments, like a payment for state worker health insurance.
It was an unusual day at the Kansas Statehouse Thursday, as Republicans from the House and Senate gathered to smooth out differences between the two chambers on tax and budget issues. Some lawmakers said it had been at least seven years since Republicans from the two chambers met as a group to discuss policy.
“It’s fun as we go out to our dinners and take potshots at each other almost as if we’re competitors," said Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover who heads the Kansas Senate budget committee. "But in reality, we’re all part of the same team, we are the legislative branch.”
The chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court and a prominent legislator are butting heads. At issue are allegations made the the justice.
He says the legislator, who's an attorney, tried to make a deal tying a pay raise for court workers to a constitutional amendment.
Chief Justice Lawton Nuss wrote a letter to a group of judges outlining the allegations. He said that Senate Vice President Jeff King told a group of judges in a meeting if they didn’t support a plan to overhaul how Supreme Court justices are selected, then the pay increase might not pass.
Kansas lawmakers just returned to the Statehouse on Wednesday, but already it looks like a disagreement on taxes could push the session past lawmakers' 80-day deadline.
House and Senate Republicans disagree on whether to extend a temporary sales tax increase. It's set to expire on July 1, and House leaders want to let it end as planned. Republican leaders in both chambers want to lower income tax rates, and Senators say keeping the sales tax elevated allows the state to lower income tax rates more quickly.
Kansas Senator Jerry Moran says the next federal farm bill is likely to cut back or eliminate some farm subsidies. The Republican from Manhattan says that while many lawmakers are focused on cutting spending, he's hoping to protect money allocated to support the federal crop insurance program.
Moran says that Kansas farmers' need for crop insurance has been shown in recent years, with drought and late spring freezes among the challenges they've been facing.