Gov. Sam Brownback said Monday that Kansas legislators were taking a workmanlike approach to sifting through proposals for raising taxes to close a state budget shortfall and praised them after their annual session went into overtime with no plan having passed either chamber.
The Republican governor opened a news conference by congratulating the GOP-dominated Legislature for “really working well.” He said that drafting a tax plan is difficult because in involves discussions among many lawmakers about many options.
Brownback and lawmakers must close a projected shortfall of $406 million in the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The gap arose after lawmakers aggressively cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging in an effort to stimulate the economy. One policy exempted the profits of 281,000 business owners and 53,000 farmers from taxation.
The governor views that tax break as an economic stimulus, but even some GOP lawmakers want to backtrack. A new proposal to narrow the tax break emerged Monday in the House.
Legislators also are considering increasing the state’s 6.15 percent sales tax, an idea that Brownback now favors.
“There’s a great workmanlike attitude,” Brownback said. “These things take a lot of time because you’ve got a lot of people involved, a lot of moving parts.”
Legislators met Monday for the 92nd day of their annual session, two more than the 90 days legislative leaders traditionally schedule, at a total cost of $43,000 per day. Only five legislative sessions have lasted 100 days or more, according to researchers, with the record of 107 days set in 2002.
Rep. Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican, was skeptical of Brownback’s sunny assessment, saying, “We’ll see if folks are still talking that way when the calendar says June 1.”
The House last week voted down a plan that would have raised the sales tax to 6.85 percent. Several Republicans said afterward that the vote suggested the House did not want such a big increase.
The chamber’s Taxation Committee was supposed to convene Monday to work on a new revenue-raising plan, but it postponed several sessions and ultimately met only briefly. It introduced the new proposal to narrow the tax break for business owners and farmers and scheduled a hearing for Tuesday.
The new proposal would exempt only the first $150,000 of profits for business owners and farmers for this year and the first $100,000 for 2016 each year afterward. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Marvin Kleeb, an Overland Park Republican, said the measure could raise $45 million to $55 million during the next fiscal year.
“I’m not saying we even want to do it, but this is an idea that’s floating around out there,” Kleeb said.