Kansas lawmakers still deadlocked on tax, budget issues

Kansas legislators were deadlocked Monday on spending and tax issues as Republican leaders publicly bickered over GOP Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to stabilize the budget by canceling a scheduled decrease in the state sales tax.

Senate President Susan Wagle acknowledged that she was waiting for the House to endorse Brownback’s proposal to keep the sales tax at its current 6.3 percent rate. The Senate has approved the measure as part of a larger plan that also cuts individual income tax rates over the next four years, as Brownback wanted.

The House passed a tax plan earlier this year allowing the sales tax to drop to 5.7 percent in July, as called for by state law, with less aggressive income tax cuts.

Last week, House Republican leaders outlined a compromise moving toward the Senate’s position on income-tax cuts and setting the sales tax at 6 percent.

The two Republican-dominated chambers still have differences to settle on a proposed state budget of roughly $14.5 billion for each of the next two fiscal years, starting in July.

Their biggest budget disagreement is over higher education spending, and both the House and Senate are at odds with Brownback.

The governor wants to keep state funding flat over the next two years, while the Senate wants to trim 1 percent each of the next two years. The House is seeking a 4 percent cut during the next fiscal year, plus additional restrictions on spending on salaries over the next two years.

Discussions of both issues degenerated Monday into back-and-forth news releases, as both tax and budget negotiators failed to meet.

“It’s their terms or no terms,” House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, said during a caucus for GOP representatives. “That’s not negotiation, and it’s a disservice to the citizens of the state to operate like this.”

But Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said that if House members continue to study tax and budget issues, their chamber eventually would endorse Brownback’s sales tax plan.

“I think it will most likely happen,” she said. “We’re prepared to work as long as we need to.”

Republicans in the House and Democrats in both chambers have resisted canceling the sales tax decrease because it was a promise lawmakers made when they raised the tax to balance the budget three years ago, before Brownback took office.

But Brownback and Republican leaders want to follow up on massive individual income tax cuts enacted last year with more reductions, positioning the state to phase out personal income taxes. Wagle argued that keeping the sales tax at 6.3 percent will not only stabilize the budget but allow for more aggressive income tax cuts, stimulating the economy more.