The 2013 session of the Kansas Legislature convened Monday afternoon, facing a budget shortfall, a court order to increase spending for public schools and a desire by many legislators to cut income taxes for a second year.
Still, Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, expects a less contentious session than in 2012, when approving a budget and redrawing district boundaries forced the wrap-up session to 26 days, the longest in history.
Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, is hoping legislators can finish their business in 80 days, 10 days short of the 90 expected each year and well short of the 2002 record of 107 days.
Holmes expects that a large freshman class will probably make the session a little more unpredictable.
"We have all those different personalities to merge," he noted.
Holmes is among the 16 counted as freshmen, although he is in a class of a dozen new Senators who previously served in the House. A representative for eight years, last spring Holmes made the decision to challenge Sen. Ruth Teichmann, R-Stafford, and defeated her in the primary in a newly-drawn District 33 that stretches north to Barton County and as far west as Scott County.
He expects the budget will be a big issue for the 2013 session. Gov. Sam Brownback is asking legislators to approve a two-year budget, Holmes said, although he has not seen the proposal.
The governor and legislators must close an estimated $267 million gap between anticipated revenue and existing spending commitments for the fiscal year beginning in July, a shortfall tied to aggressive income tax cuts approved last year.
The state's sales tax is set to drop to 0.6 percent in July, and the governor has proposed keeping the tax at the current level.
"I would have to be convinced it's a good idea to not fulfill the promise that was made (when the 1 percent tax was enacted in 2010)," Holmes said.
Last week, a three-judge panel hearing a school funding lawsuit in Shawnee County District Court ruled that the state's per-pupil aid didn't meet requirements under the state constitution. If legislators complied with the court order, they would have to increase school spending by at least $440 million.
The state is planning an appeal and Republican leaders have suggested they will defy the ruling.
"I am committed to restoring to Kansas the fundamental American principle that only the elected representatives of the people of Kansas — accountable to them at the ballot box — may enact laws regarding spending and taxation," Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said in a statement to the Associated Press.
Holmes anticipates that changes in the state's pension plan for new teachers and government workers approved in 2011 will be "tweaked."
Lead negotiator for a House bill to change the plan from a defined benefit to a cash balance, like a 401(k) plan, Homes said the law signed into effect represented a "political compromise, not a mathematical solution" for a gap between revenue and promised benefits that was estimated at more than $7 billion at that time.
Page 2 of 2 - Holmes will serve on four committees: agriculture, federal and state affairs, ethics, elections and local government, and health. He served on the House equivalent of all except agriculture.
Major issues for the ag committee will include drought and water issues and taxation, especially relating to estate tax.
Holmes anticipates the committee will also deal with matters relating to protecting the endangered black-footed ferrets, which depend upon prairie dogs for their survival.
Holmes will share an office with Garrett Love, R-Montezuma, Senate Agriculture Committee chair.
"I expect I'll be pretty well immersed in those issues," Holmes commented.
The session began with the swearing in of all 40 senators and 125 House members. Brownback plans to outline his agenda in Tuesday evening's State of the State address and release the details of his budget proposals Wednesday morning.
This story is based upon an interview with Sen. Holmes and stories by the Associated Press.
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Noelle Holmes recovering
Noelle Holmes, the 18-year-old daughter of Mitch Michelle Holems, is recovering from a head injury sustained in an automobile accident in mid-September.
"She's continuing to make progress, but she's got a long way to go," Mitch Holmes said. "It's good to have that personality coming back."
After being hospitalized at Wesley Medical Center, Wichita, she was transferred to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Omaha, Neb., where she was released just before Thanksgiving. She is at home, and taking regular rehabilitation therapy at Pratt Regional Medical Center.
The family is optimistic for her future.
"We haven't been told, but as a family, we hope she'll be ready to go back to college (at Pratt Community College) in the fall," Holmes said.