by Dennis Sharkey
Kansas Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, and minority whip, says that Kansas will have a budget and redistricting will happen but don’t expect much else.
Sen. Tom Holland
Holland isn’t trying to be pessimistic but is forecasting a contentious session because of political polarization that comes with an election year for all Kansas legislators and especially moderate Republican senators. He said many of them will see primary challenges.
“I see this session being extremely contentious,” Holland said. “You’re going to have these incumbent Republican senators under attack throughout the session,” he said.
Holland may predict gridlock but he doesn’t think that translates to a boring or slow session. He believes it will be the busiest session since he entered the legislature as a House member in 2003. He won election to the Senate in 2008 and challenged current Gov. Sam Brownback last year for the state’s top elected position.
Many believe the state’s economic position is better this year thanks to an improving economy and past cuts to the budget.
Holland guarantees that two items will get done before the legislature adjourns. A budget will pass and redistricting will happen but there will be some debates about whether to cut more spending or apply surplus balances to programs.
“There are lots of balls in the air,” Holland said. “I’m sure we’ll have some good debates on whether any balance should be put to use.”
Although Holland isn’t predicting much more legislation, he does expect many debates to take place on some key central issues that may also shape the elections.
There has been a lot of information published about Brownback’s plans for tax reform including income taxes. Many of Brownback’s ideas scare Holland. His main fear is that the lost revemies will be made up with trickle down effects on local communities.
“My fear is you will see increased pressure for local property taxes to go up,” he said. “I want to be sure those on fixed income are protected.
“The state is just going to shift the tax burden down to the local level,” Holland added. “We’re going to make life even harder for Kansas middle class families to survive,” he said.
Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, formed a committee last year after Brownback announced plans to put forth a proposal to reform income taxes. Morris was outspoken about the issue of transparency when he announced the committee. Holland is on the committee and agrees with his colleague across the isle. He believes any plan the governor puts forward will not have had the proper public scrutiny.
“This has been done behind closed doors,” he said. “You have special interest putting this package together.”
Holland said he will introduce legislation that freezes residential property taxes for seniors until they no longer own the property. He got a similar bill passed in the House during the 2008 session but the bill died in the Senate.
He also plans on introducing legislation that would prohibit employers from discriminating against those who are unemployed and a bill that would prohibit employers from checking an applicant’s credit history unless it is a financially sensitive position.
“Economic times are tough out there and we don’t want to be discouraging people from seeking employment,” he said.
“It’s none of their business,” he said about personal financial information. “That’s personal private business.”
Holland will pull another bill that he has previously tried to get passed to help with immigration. His bill would require all governmental agencies and state contractors to use e-verify. He said the bill would be structured to be as least burdensome as possible.
“The state needs to show it can live under its own rules,” he said.
He said all of Kansas’ neighboring states have already enacted similar laws.
Another issue that scares Holland is Brownback’s education finance formula. He says the state has cut more than $620 from the base state aid the past two years and the funding level is as low as it has been in a decade. Holland says Brownback’s plan is more status quo.
“He basically wants to lock in the cuts we’ve had over the last two years,” Holland said. “It’s basically a one time expenditure.”
He said the state needs to build back up to where funding was before cuts started.
“Our focus when it comes to education needs to be restoring funding to education through the existing state formula,” he said. “The existing formula works.
“The formula is constitutionally valid,” he added.
Holland said Brownback’s plan only helps large districts and rural districts will fall behind.
“What we’re saying is your zip code is going to determine the quality of education,” Holland said. “Jefferson County kids will not be able to keep up with Johnson County kids.”
Holland said all of the “weighting” for things such as transportation and at-risk students will go away making the gap wider if districts grow.
Holland expects at least a debate if not changes to some major programs. The state’s employee retirement program known as KPERS and Medicaid are on the front burner.
There is a predicted $8.3 billion long term funding gap for KPERS. Holland said he wants to know how the gap will be filled and how the plan will retain state employees.
“They have a lot of institutional knowledge,” Holland said. “The pension plan was seen as something to keep them around long term.”
Medicaid costs for the state have increased by more than 27 percent in the last five years. Holland said something needs to be done to curb the cost but checks and balances need to be in place for third party care providers.
“I want to be sure we have some measures and controls up front in those contracts to establish benchmarks and standards so that taxpayers know they are getting their money’s worth.”
from JeffCountynews.com http://www.jeffcountynews.com/2012/01/holland-predicts-gridlock-for-2012-session/