Johnson County Moderate Republicans Stand Firm Against GOP Leadership

Feb 9, 2017

When people started to file into the Kansas Senate chamber on Thursday morning, it was clear the legislation that leadership was pushing was dead.

New, moderate Republican legislators elected in November seemed to take a firm stand: The budget bills on the calendar for debate didn’t raise taxes enough and cut too much from public education.

In that group were three GOP moderates from Johnson County, including two freshmen who ran for office promising to fix the state’s budget for good.

“In the last month of the campaign what we heard door-to-door was: ‘Fix this mess.’ And I think that’s what we signed on for, is to fix this mess,” says Sen. John Skubal of Overland Park. “I will not keep doing one-time money. There’s no more one-time money anyway. But we have to get this thing fixed.”

The bills that moderates just couldn’t get behind Thursday would have cut 5 percent from this year’s public education budget, meaning districts across the state would have to slash a total of $154 million by July 1.

Another measure would have rescinded the LLC income tax exemption approved in 2012 but not include an additional tax bracket. That would raise more money, something Democrats and moderate Republicans want to help close big budget deficits this year and next.

But legislative observers wondered whether moderate Republicans would stand firm or succumb to pressure from their more conservative leaders. There was a lot of arm-twisting after the Senate adjourned.

Freshman Sen. Dinah Sykes of Overland Park says she’s willing to make cuts as long as the budget is “structurally balanced” in future years.

“I have to be able to see one year, two years, and then if I have to make cuts I can do that knowing a plan is in place to get us on the path we need,” she says.

Both freshmen legislators have said they think leadership is listening to their concerns. But Skubal, a longtime member of the Overland Park City Council, says he’s not getting enough information.

“I want to see all of the numbers before I can vote on those solutions, and I have not been able to get runs of budgets,” he says. “It’s kind of a moving target.”

That target will keep moving for a while. It appears Senate leadership will only put up budget bills for a vote if there are 21 Republicans — a majority in the 40-seat Senate — who will vote yes.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR and the Kansas News Service and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KCUR.org.