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Thursday, December 8, 2016

By Bryan Lowry, The Wichita Eagle (TNS)

WICHITA, Kan. — A tax plan crawled to passage in the Kansas House in the early hours Friday morning, after Gov. Sam Brownback warned lawmakers that massive budget cuts would occur Monday if they failed to act on taxes.

The House began debate on a pair of bills at 1:30 a.m. meant to plug the state’s nearly $400 million budget hole. It did not pass until after 4 a.m.

Democrats castigated Republican leaders for holding the debate at such an hour when lawmakers are weary and most of the public are asleep.

But Republican lawmakers stressed the urgency of passing a bill now rather than later with the state staring down massive cuts if lawmakers failed to act.

The first bill scraped by with 63 votes, the bare minimum for passage, and the second initially fell four votes short.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Republican, invoked a rule known as “the call of the House,” which pauses the vote and requires the Kansas Highway Patrol to search for missing representatives. Merrick and other Republican leaders picked up their phones and aggressively pressed colleagues to back the bill.

“I need some movement,” the speaker emphatically said into his phone within earshot of reporters seated nearby.

The call lasted more than two hours before Rep. Blake Carpenter, a Republican, cast the deciding vote after 4 a.m. Carpenter left the House chamber before answering questions.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get 63 votes,” Merrick reflected after the bill passed. “That’s the way the process works. It’s a hard vote for Republicans raising taxes. It’s a real tough vote for me.”

Before the pair of bills can go to the governor’s desk the Senate will have to pass one of the bills, which isn’t guaranteed.

“It moves that last train down the track,” Merrick said about the House vote.

The two bills generate $384 million in revenue, which if added to other legislation passed this year, would fill the state’s shortfall and leave the state with a razor-thin $36 million ending balance in fiscal year 2016, which begins in July. House leaders are also counting on the governor to issue $50 million in unspecified budget cuts of his own to bring the total to $86 million.

(c)2015 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Kansas Secretary of Administration Jim Clark displays a flow chart of what it takes to set up new funds once a budget is passed. Sectretary Clark explained to a joint caucus of Republicans in Topeka, Kan., on Thursday, June 11, 2015, how long once a bill is passed for funds to flow to the recipients as the Kansas House and Senate are trying to fill a $400 million budget hole. (Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle/TNS)