By John Celock
Kansas government employees have started to receive furlough notices effective 12:01 a.m. Sunday as the state legislative budget and tax impasse continues, according to the primary state public employee union.
The notices, due out by Noon central time Friday, start the process of shutting down the state government, a result of the lack of a state budget or tax plan to fill a budget deficit in the overtime legislative session. The furloughs have been anticipated for several days, with state agencies beginning to notify impacted employees earlier this week. The shutdown will prevent all non-essential state offices, including large parts of state universities and the state parks system, from operating. Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) administration has said that the state does not have the authority to pay employees if a budget was not adopted by June 6.
The furloughs will be stopped if lawmakers can agree on a budget.
Among those receiving furlough notices, according to tweets from the Kansas Organization of State Employees, are road crews at the state Department of Transportation, the Division of Alcohol Beverage Control and some human services specialists in the Department of Children and Families. A reporter for KMBC-TV in Kansas City tweeted that the Transportation Department said that road crews will not be furloughed, which KOSE responded to by saying that the crews have told the union they received the notices.
KOSE tweeted that they will seek legal action to stop the furloughs, saying their contract does not allow for them.
@BusbyLarry If there are furloughs, there will be legal action. There is no language in our contract allowing "emergency" furloughs.
— KOSE Union (@KOSE_Union) June 5, 2015
According to a tweet from a student, the University of Kansas has sent out an email informing students that while the shutdown will impact KU, summer classes will start as scheduled on Tuesday.
The shutdown order comes as lawmakers enter the 106th day of the constitutional 90-day annual legislative session without a spending or revenue plan adopted. Legislators have been grappling with a $400 million budget deficit, a result of business and income tax cuts adopted in 2012. The Republican-controlled state House of Representatives adopted a budget plan earlier this week but leaders of the Republican-controlled state Senate have said they will not vote on a budget plan until a tax plan is adopted.
With furloughs pending Republicans leaders in the House and Senate have engaged in a blame game on who is to blame. House leaders have said that they have passed a budget and it is up to the Senate, while Senate leaders said the budget has to be balanced and cannot be adopted until a spending plan is agreed to.
The Judiciary will remain open due to Brownback signing the state judicial budget into law this week.
Earlier this week, lawmakers directed a conference committee of both chambers’ tax leaders to develop a tax plan. A conference committee plan to raise state sales taxes to 6.65 percent, similar to Brownback’s proposal, was defeated by the House in a 108-3 vote Thursday, sending legislative tax leaders back to the drawing board. The defeated proposal also included freezing income tax rates for several years before more cuts would occur.
The House is slated to take up another tax bill Friday afternoon.
The tax debate has pitted factions of the Legislature against each other, including in the dominant Republican Party. Several groups have suggested hiking the sales tax to cover the deficit, with debates occurring over should the sales tax on food be raised as part of the entire package. On Sunday the Senate defeated an amendment to eliminate sales tax exemptions on a series of non-profits – including Catholic Charities and the Girl Scouts. The Celock Report has learned that a group of conservative Republicans in the House had supported a modified version of the exemption elimination.
Opponents of the sales tax increase have argued that it will hurt the poor.
“We have the highest sales tax in our region and this conference committee report would raise it even higher to 6.65 percent,” Rep. Tom Sawyer (D-Wichita) said during Thursday’s tax debate. “Sales taxes are regressive. They effect working families and senior citizens a lot worse than other taxes.”
Opponents of the sales tax hike argued during the debate that the statewide sales tax combined with local sales taxes could push the sales tax in some communities above 10 percent. Rep. John Wilson (D-Lawrence) argued during Thursday’s debate that the higher sales tax will hurt small business by making some communities have higher sales taxes than New York City. Johnson County lawmakers – including moderate Republicans – have argued that a higher sales tax will push their constituents to drive to neighboring Missouri to shop.
Democrats have argued for changes to the 2012 cuts, which Brownback has threatened to veto. Among the changes demanded is the closing of a provision that allows the owner of an LLC not to pay personal income taxes along with business taxes.
“I cannot support a tax system where the receptionist pays tax and the lawyer pays nothing,” Rep. John Carmichael (D-Wichita) said during Thursday’s debate.
The Kansas shutdown is the first government shutdown in the United States since the federal shutdown in 2013. The last state government shutdown was Minnesota in 2011.
The shutdown comes as budget impasses in Alaska and Maine threaten shutdowns of those state governments in coming weeks. Florida leaders said Thursday that a shutdown is not likely, despite a budget impasse in the Legislature. Alaska has a Democratic governor and Republican Legislature, while the GOP controls the governorship and Legislature in Florida. In Maine, Democrats control the state House, while Republicans control the governorship and Senate.
Lawmakers in both parties have taken to making statements pushing for an end to the stalemate.
“We know what we need and it’s time to get to work,” House Taxation Committee Chairman Marvin Kleeb (R-Overland Park) said during Thursday’s debate.
During an hour long House debate Friday morning about scrap metal theft, Wilson urged a focus on the budget, saying that “tens of thousands” of state workers are looking to the Legislature to adopt a spending plan to avoid furloughs.
“Come on we’ve got to move on to more important things when we’ve had a whole session to deal with this issue,” Wilson said about scrap metal.