“Permanent budget crisis.”

A leading Democratic voice in the Legislature says the governor’s tax plan continues to spell danger for the Sunflower State’s future.

Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, recently stopped by The Herald to discuss the near-conclusion of the 2013 legislative session. The following is a summary of his conversation with the newspaper’s editors:

Question: What, in general, are your impressions of this year’s session?

Answer: We’ve got a fair bit of lifting still to do. There was some hope that a budget would be passed before we had first adjournment and that didn’t happen. The main reason is because we don’t have enough revenue to balance the budget right now unless you make the cuts that we’re already talking about a whole lot steeper. There’s a lot of maneuvering going on about sales tax and the governor’s proposal, but really what has been driving the discussion this whole session has been the fallout of this income tax plan that came about last year.

Q: What are your thoughts on Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to eventually eliminate income taxes in the state?

A: [The income tax cuts] create a big budget deficient in this fiscal year and then on down the line. It’s kind of an interesting situation on how that came about because the Legislature has this saying that you “Christmas tree” up this bill when you want to vote it down, and that’s essentially what happened with this tax plan. They loaded so much stuff on it that the fiscal hit was so big that nobody thought it’d go anywhere and the Senate actually voted it down. The governor then went to the Senate president and said ‘I just want to get a bill in conference. I know it’s too big and there are a lot of things in it that we don’t want to go forward on it, so let’s just get it into conference committee and we’ll clean it up.’ At that point in time, it was in a posture where somebody in the House could make a motion to concur and then the bill goes straight to the governor’s desk. And that’s what happened. I thought surely they would never move forward with it — because you just look at the deficits that it caused — but here we are.

Q: What sort of impact do you see this plan having on Kansas’ future?

A: It leaves us in a pretty big deficit as you see [referencing the non-partisan Kansas Legislative Research Department’s 2012 report]. At the end fiscal year 2018, we’re 781 million dollars in the hole. ... The bottom line of all this is that it sort of puts us in a permanent budget crisis and we’re going to constantly struggle to be able to fund a lot of the core obligations of state government that I think a lot of people expect us to fund. ... The income tax accounts for about 46 percent of the revenue for the state general fund. Nobody has every been able to present any coherent argument that I can see how you offset that loss of revenue. ... Gov. Brownback’s own study, which was done by the Kansas Policy Institute, said that the tax plan was going to create 33,000 jobs. We asked the Legislative Research Department how many jobs would need to be created to offset the lose in revenue, and they came up with a figure of over 400,000 jobs. That’s a 25-percent increase in the total workforce. ... We’re not dealing with the tax that people want to see cut the most, and that’s the property tax and we’re also laying claim to future state revenues. That’s not necessarily a good idea for us to be doing. There may be other needs down the road that we need to be paying attention to. I really foresee a situation if we continue heading down the path we’re on, that in several years people are going to be so angry about property taxes. There are more things that are getting off loaded onto local units of government and they go to their only source of revenue — the mil-levy.

Q: As a result of the 2012 general election, both the Kansas House and Senate have turned into more conservative bodies. What have you noticed with that change?

A: The Legislature has definitely taken a hard right turn. It’s interesting that people observe the House of Representatives as being the body farthest to the right, and now they are the more centered chamber of the two. The Senate has really taken a hard-right turn. A lot of those moderates were defeated in the primary. In my first eight years, Gov. [Kathleen] Sebelius just came into office, and then [Gov. Mark] Parkinson after her. We really ran state government on a coalition of conservatives, moderate Republicans and Democrats and I think we did a lot of good things. It worked really well. I’d like to get back to where we can have a working coalition that has a majority of votes where we can get some things done, or at least stop bad things from happening.

Q: How has the large influx of freshmen affected the operations of the House?

A: I’ve generally been impressed with all the freshmen. There are 57 of them. Some of them had served before, but 57 are new this session. They’ve taken their job very seriously, and a lot of them have learned issues and become pretty well very-versed. ... There’s an old saying that freshman should be seen, but not heard. But with 57 of them, they’re going to have to jump into the water and start working on things.

Q: Gov. Brownback recently signed into a law a measure that requires drug testing for certain people receiving government assistance. What are your thoughts on that?

A: I voted for that. I am a little concerned about the message that is being sent when you’re singling out a particular population of people, and I was generally an advocate of trying to broaden that group. At one point we were going to drug test legislators, and I don’t have a problem with that because if we’re going to ask other people to submit to drug testing, we should probably lead by example.  

Q: What are your thoughts on the recent “2nd Amendment Protection Act” law?

A: The one issue I really had with the gun legislation was where we’re putting federal law enforcement and state and local law enforcement at odds with each other. My experience has been that law enforcement agencies from all levels of government work together very frequently and I don’t want to put an issue on the table that is going to interrupt their ability to cooperate with each other. That was really was my primary concern with that bill. I generally take the approach that we’re better off deferring to a degree of local control in terms of what policies should be adopted to keep buildings safe and whether or not firearms are appropriate in certain places.

Q: Do you plan to run for governor in 2014?

A: I get asked that question a lot. The Democrats are going to have a strong candidate for governor. I think you will see someone emerge in the next several months. It’s still pretty early. There are a few names that are getting bantered around, and I guess, as one of the leaders of the party, I’m in contact with a lot of those folks. We’re definitely going to have a good candidate. We feel like we’ve got a chance to win, too. Gov. Brownback is pretty unpopular. Some of the polling numbers that came out show he’s one of the most unpopular governors in the country. Although we’re a Republican state, we have a history of electing Democratic governors. And we also have a history of those governors being elected by defeating Republican incumbents. So we feel we have a good chance.