Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Kansas GOP: A House Divided ; Republicans in Legislature Battling Internal Strife on Tax Policy

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Kansas GOP: A House Divided ; Republicans in Legislature Battling Internal Strife on Tax Policy

Article excerpt

The financial mind game in the Capitol threatens to exact a toll on Kansas politicians toiling under the dome.

Legislators resume work Monday on a tax-hike or spending-cut solution to a $406 million revenue shortfall, aware of a ballot-box reality check awaiting them in 2016.

As the noose tightens on options in the 2015 session, House and Senate members also face internal threats of their own making.

Dozens signed pledges to oppose tax increases at any cost. They also vested substantive power in leaders of their respective chambers.

Senate President Susan Wagle, a cancer survivor elected to the House in 1990 and the Senate in 2000, knows working through these moments requires grit. In a meeting last week with GOP colleagues who hold a numerical advantage over Democrats sufficient to pass or defeat any bill, Wagle appealed for partisan collaboration.

"We're going to need a willingness when we come back to really try to find a way to compromise," she said.

Then, a shot over the bow.

"In a business, the boss gets to say which way things are going," Wagle said. "And, if people don't follow, often times they don't keep their job or certainly they're not promoted."

In other words, legislators who undercut exit strategies do so at personal peril. Membership on influential committees or chairmanships of those panels -- always useful when raising campaign cash -- hang in the balance. Issues as routine as securing a committee hearing on a bill or as pivotal as scheduling floor votes are in play. Not just this session, but years down the line.

The same fate could await representatives on the opposite side of the rotunda. House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican made the House's chief in 2013, possesses the same leverage as Wagle.

In the House, a floor debate Friday exposed the depth of the challenge. A contingent of Republicans reacted to a bill raising the state's sales tax as if someone asked them to cuddle a porcupine.

"I cannot vote for a tax increase until we get government spending under control," recoiled Rep. Mike Kiegerl, R-Olathe.

Others in the House were drawn to the bill escalating the consumption tax, a philosophy endorsed by Gov. …

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