Kansas negotiators agree on a 6 percent sales tax

Republican negotiators in the Kansas Legislature agreed Friday on a plan to cut income taxes further and set the state’s sales tax at 6 percent, but a Senate leader doubted it could pass both chambers.

House Republicans drafted the proposal during negotiations with senators on tax issues. GOP senators accepted it so both chambers could vote on it, with the House taking it up first, possibly Tuesday.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and most members of the GOP-dominated Legislature want to follow up on massive income tax cuts enacted last year with further reductions, believing they will stimulate the economy.

To head off budget shortfalls, Brownback proposed keeping the sales tax at its current 6.3 percent rather than dropping it to 5.7 percent in July, as called for by state law.

An impasse among top GOP legislators has pushed the Legislature’s annual session, normally scheduled to last 90 days, to at least 95 days.

The negotiations between the two chambers resumed Friday shortly after the House rejected 109-5 a proposal from Senate GOP leaders. Their plan would have dropped the sales tax on groceries to 4.95 percent but kept it at 6.3 percent on all other items subject to the tax.

House Republicans insist their chamber won’t approve a plan with a sales tax above 6 percent. And most GOP senators contend their chamber won’t accept a plan unless the sales tax is at or close to 6.3 percent.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican, said he doubts the latest plan is “the path home.” But, he said, having each chamber vote on the House GOP plan would at least give negotiators some guidance in future talks.

“Letting members have the opportunity to vote on it, that gets us closer,” he said.

The sales tax decline was scheduled when legislators boosted the tax temporarily in 2010 to balance the budget, before Brownback took office. Many House Republicans, as well as Democrats in both chambers, don’t want to break the pledge.

Democrats don’t expect to vote for any plan, though they are allowing the latest GOP plan to go forward. Democrats believe last year’s tax cuts are reckless and favor the wealthy and want them reconsidered.

Some GOP conservatives see adjusting the sales tax as a tax increase. House Republicans’ latest plan, with a 6 percent sales tax, raises a net $857 million for the state over the next five years.

But lead House tax negotiator Richard Carlson, a St. Marys Republican, said: “We still tend to think it would pass.”

Brownback admonished lawmakers this week to wrap up their business, but spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said Friday that he is “glad to see that the legislative process is moving forward.”