Archive for Thursday, June 4, 2015

Kansas House passes budget requiring higher taxes to balance

June 4, 2015

— The Kansas House approved a $6 billion budget Wednesday that would still leave the state with a $406 million shortfall, while the Senate prepares to vote on a rival proposal that would close the gap through massive spending cuts.

The House budget would cut in half a budget shortfall initially projected at about $800 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, and it passed without debate on a 64-48 vote.

Across the rotunda, the Senate plans to debate a proposal Thursday that would eliminate the budget gap though a 5.9 percent across the board cut to all state agencies, public safety services and schools, said Republican Majority Leader Terry Bruce, of Nickerson.

Les Osterman, a Wichita Republican, said he voted for the House budget only to avoid the potential of state employees in his district being furloughed. Administration officials have said workers would be furloughed Sunday without a budget signed by the governor.

"This for me was a vote to my state employees," Osterman said.

But many of the Republicans that voted for the budget will likely vote against the tax increases to raise the additional $406 million needed to balance, said Republican Rep. Dan Hawkins from Wichita.

To fill the gap, Gov. Sam Brownback last week proposed increasing the sales tax to 6.65 percent from 6.15 percent and raising the state's cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack to $1.29. He's also wants to increase business taxes by $24 million during the fiscal year beginning July 1.

After the Senate passed a limited tax measure Wednesday, House and Senate budget leaders can now negotiate on a comprehensive tax package to be approved by both chambers. The House's top tax negotiator, Republican Rep. Marvin Kleeb of Overland Park, said he is seeking a plan close to what the governor has proposed, but would likely opt for a lower sales tax hike.

The state's budget problems arose after legislators heeded Brownback's call in 2012 and 2013 to slash personal income taxes as an economic stimulus. The state cut income tax rates and exempted the profits of 281,000 business owners and 53,000 farmers.

Deadlock over a solution to the budget woes has driven the Legislature into overtime and lawmakers are expected to meet for a 104th day Thursday, making it the second longest session in the history of the state. The longest session lasted 107 days in 2002, while Legislature typically concludes after 90 days or less.

Given the acrimonious debates that have stalled both tax and spending bills, several legislators expressed surprise that the House budget was approved without any discussion.

House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, a Kansas City Democrat, said after the vote that House Speaker Pro Tem Peggy Mast violated procedure by closing debate before Democrats had a chance to speak.

Mast, an Emporia Republican, denied that she chaired the session unfairly saying that she did not see or hear any Democrats in the chamber request to speak or ask questions.

No Democrats voted in favor of the budget and for them, "it was just an opportunity missed and I don't know exactly how else to explain it," Mast said.

AP political writer John Hanna contributed to this report.


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