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New Kansas Senate leader sees no quick tax cut

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TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Senate's new majority leader said Monday that efforts to boost the economy likely won't include a quick tax cut or a repeal of a recent sales tax increase because those policies could worsen the state's budget problems.

Sen. Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican, said he isn't ruling out a debate on tax policy but said the Senate is likely to be "measured" in considering proposals for cuts.

Fellow GOP senators unanimously named Emler majority leader during a Monday caucus meeting, promoting him from chairman of the Senate's budget-writing Ways and Means Committee. He'll replace Derek Schmidt, an Independence Republican who was elected attorney general this year. Republicans have a 32-8 majority in the chamber.

"I don't see any quick tax cuts coming, based on what I know about the revenues at this point in time," Emler told reporters. "If we got a quick tax cut, that would mean we're making a quick hole in the revenues that affect the budget."

Emler, a 61-year-old attorney, was first elected to the Senate in 2000 and re-elected in 2004 and 2008. He has served as Ways and Means Committee chairman for the past two years.

His views on tax issues are important because the majority leader sets the Senate's daily debate calendar and runs his party's caucus meetings. The only higher-ranking leader in the chamber is its president.

Some House Republicans who opposed last year's sales tax increase have talked about repealing it quickly after the Legislature reconvenes Jan. 10. Other House members, including Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, have suggested their chamber will consider some proposed tax cuts this year.

Emler is serving on the transition team for Gov.-elect Sam Brownback, a Republican who takes office Jan. 10. Brownback has said he believes the state needs to reduce its individual income tax rates to improve its economy, but he's not outlined a specific proposal or a timetable for making such cuts.

O'Neal said he wasn't surprised by Emler's comments and that he looked forward to hearing from Brownback on the topic.

"I do think he's still interested in some form of tax decrease," O'Neal said of the governor-elect. "And obviously, the House is in a mood to reduce taxes."

The governor-elect has criticized the sales tax increase but opposes its repeal next year because of the potential budget problems that could cause.

Legislative researchers have said the gap between projected revenues and current spending commitments is approaching $500 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Both Emler and Brownback have noted that the sales tax increase approved earlier this year is expected to raise more than $300 million.

Outgoing Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, pushed for the sales tax increase to avoid additional spending cuts, and the proposal had bipartisan support, although House GOP leaders, including O'Neal, opposed it. As Ways and Means chairman, Emler helped shepherd the tax increase through the Senate.

Republican senators were split on the tax increase, and Schmidt voted against it. But Emler was the only announced candidate to replace Schmidt as majority leader after Sen. Terry Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican who also voted against the tax increase, dropped out of the race before Monday's caucus meeting.

After GOP senators picked Emler as majority leader, he and other Republican leaders met and picked Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican, as the next Ways and Means Committee chairwoman.

McGinn, a 51-year-old farmer, is the first woman to hold the job. She's served as a committee vice chairwoman for the past two years.

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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