Democrat Sawyer steps away from leadership post; Hawkins seeks job of Kansas House speaker

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — Kansas House Democratic leader Tom Sawyer, first elected to the Legislature in 1986, said Tuesday he didn’t intend to seek the leadership job entering the 2023 session.

The announcement that Sawyer would step aside but remain in the House followed decisions by House Speaker Ron Ryckman and House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, both Republicans, not to seek reelection in 2022. House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, who was reelected, is expected to be chosen by peers to serve as House speaker for the two-year legislative cycle.

Sawyer, of Wichita, was House majority leader from 1991 to 1992, House minority leader from 1993 to 1998 and House minority leader since 2018. His final day in that role would be Jan. 9.

“Upon deep reflection, I believe it is time for me to step back and allow the caucus to have a new leader who will lead us and Kansans towards achieving these important goals,” Sawyer said. “It has been an honor of a lifetime to be entrusted with the responsibility to lead our caucus over the many years.”

Voting in the August primary and November general election left House Republicans with a two-thirds majority important when considering vetoes of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. Democrats gained one seat to bring the caucus to 40 in the 125-member House. Democrats fell two seats short of breaking the GOP supermajority and offer more assistance to Kelly during her second term.

Sawyer, who ran for governor in 1998 and served four years as chairman of the Kansas Democratic Part, said he expected Democrats to expand their numbers in the House.

“This growth, which I hope to see continue in the coming years, will strengthen our position to advocate strongly for the issues that matter most to Kansans, such as tax relief, expanding Medicaid, fully funding public education including special education and legalizing medicinal marijuana,” he said.

Hawkins, who has served in the House since 2013, outlined in a letter to House Republicans a critique of the governor. He said Kelly botched handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowed crime and inflation to rise and made anti-abortion policy an “afterthought.”

Individuals elected in November to serve in the 2023 Legislature will vote Dec. 5 on nominees for House speaker, House majority leader and House speaker pro tem as well as the top Democratic posts in the chamber.

Kansas Reflector stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

See more at https://kansasreflector.com/briefs/democrat-sawyer-steps-away-from-leadership-post-hawkins-seeks-job-of-house-speaker/

Kansas lawmakers consider using state’s surplus to cut Social Security taxes

Kansas projected to have millions in surplus for next fiscal year

by Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — Kansas legislators want to use a projected budget surplus to address the state’s “Social Security cliff,” which they say is driving retirees out of the state.

Kansas taxes income from Social Security benefits, with an income tax exemption for those who make $75,000 in federal adjusted gross income or less. Critics of the tax policy say retirees are put under unnecessary financial strain.

During Friday’s legislative hearing on taxation, Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, said she supported removing state income tax on Social Security entirely. Tyson and other lawmakers have tried to pass legislation on this subject for the past few years.

Most recently, lawmakers tried to pass House Bill 2597 in 2022, which would have exempted several thousand dollars in retirement plan income and provided for that amount to annually increase by the Internal Revenue Code cost of living adjustment.

“All the committee members, we definitely made an attempt, a great attempt, to address this last year and in previous years,” Tyson said. “If there’s any type of tax on social security that plays into it and discourages people at different levels to not work. We engineer behavior through our tax structure.”

With Kansas carrying a record surplus of more than $2 billion this fiscal year and a surplus of $400 million expected next year, lawmakers are trying to decide what to do with the extra money.

Surplus estimates for the 2023-2024 state general fund were produced by the Division of the Budget and Kansas Legislative Research Department using a consensus process. The governor and the Legislature use these estimates when making the annual budget and spending blueprint.

For the 2023 fiscal year, the estimate increased in November from previous estimates made in April by $794.2 million. Total tax estimates increased by $773 million, and other revenue estimates increased by $21.2 million, making the revised estimate for the 2023 fiscal year $9.701 billion.

The initial estimate for fiscal year 2024 is $10.124 billion, a 4.4% increase from the 2023 fiscal year estimate. The amount of total taxes is estimated to increase by 0.9%, following an increase in 2023.

Gov. Laura Kelly campaigned for reelection on a platform of more quickly eliminating Kansas’ 6.5% sales tax on groceries, fully funding special education and working to reduce the Social Security income tax cliff. Kelly’s budget will be released in January, and it’s expected that some of these issues will be addressed in the budget.

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said Social Security issues needed to be a priority in the upcoming legislative session.

“As far as it comes with Social Security, I am very interested in addressing the cliff issue,” Holland said. “That’s a real problem to me, for people who have paid into Social Security, particularly for those who are seniors who don’t have other additional sources of income. I think it’s imperative that they get access to those funds.”

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2022/11/22/kansas-lawmakers-consider-using-states-surplus-to-cut-social-security-taxes/

Kansas GOP suspends punishment of party members amid loyalty crackdown

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — The Kansas Republican Party’s chairman said sanctions against party members were suspended due to appeals filed by people who were to be penalized for signing a petition leading to placement on November ballots of an independent candidate for governor.

Mike Kuckelman, who leads the Kansas GOP, said the party’s loyalty committee met Wednesday to consider challenges to punishments sought by top party officials. Approximately 40 party members holding leadership posts signed Sen. Dennis Pyle’s petition, an act viewed as evidence these officials provided direct support to someone other than GOP gubernatorial nominee Derek Schmidt.

Amid demands by the accused for due process, Kuckelman said the loyalty committee temporarily suspended disciplinary action so cases could be handled individually in the future.

The Kansas GOP leadership had voted Nov. 9 — one day after Schmidt’s loss — to chastise signers of the Pyle petition. The objective of the Republicans’ loyalty committee is to strip offenders of party leadership posts.

“In light of the number of appeals, the loyalty committee cannot properly hear and decide each appeal,” Kuckelman said. “It is not possible to assemble the executive committee to hear each appeal, and render a decision on each appeal in a timely manner, without risk of unfairly disrupting county reorganization meetings.”

Schmidt lost the Nov. 8 race to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who secured 49% of the vote to Schmidt’s 47%. Pyle received 2% and the Libertarian Party nominee got 1%.

Kelly’s margin of victory was 20,886 votes, the Kansas secretary of state said. Pyle, who ran a conservative campaign that denounced Kelly and Schmidt, received 20,057 votes.

In 2007, the state Republican Party moved to form a loyalty committee after losing several prominent elections, including an attempt to block reelection of Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

The concept was inspired by Kris Kobach, who was chairman of the Kansas GOP, and Christian Morgan, who was the state party’s executive director.

“The motive behind this is, ‘Let’s make sure Republicans are supporting Republicans,’” Morgan told the Associated Press 15 years ago. “If you want to hold a party post, you should at least be supporting Republican candidates.”

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
See more at https://kansasreflector.com/briefs/kansas-gop-suspends-punishment-of-party-members-amid-loyalty-crackdown/