Kansas tax deal stalls again after vote in House

The clouded tax debate at the Kansas statehouse grew ever more muddled Tuesday after the House rejected a plan for setting the state sales tax at 6 percent.

The House voted 71-42 to reject the plan crafted by its own negotiators, signaling little interest in going with Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to keep the current sales tax rate at 6.3 cents.

“I would say we’re back to square one,” said Rep. Richard Carlson, a St. Marys Republican and the House’s lead negotiator on taxes.

The action left more uncertainty about when this year’s legislative session — entering its 96th day Wednesday — will end as lawmakers search for a mix of tax cuts that will find consensus.

Raised in 2010 as a temporary bridge for the recession, the state sales tax is scheduled to roll back to 5.7 cents from 6.3 cents in July.

But Brownback wants to keep the current rate to fill a revenue hole created by income tax cuts he signed into law last year and to reduce income taxes even further in coming years.

Brownback’s plan is supported by the Senate, which has been unable to reach a deal with the larger and more politically splintered House.

Some House members said Tuesday’s vote should be read as a sign that the chamber is firmly against keeping the sales tax rate at 6.3 cents.

“In this body, 6.3 is not happening,” said Rep. Amanda Grosserode, a Lenexa Republican who wants to let the temporary sales tax lapse.

That view was echoed by veteran Olathe Republican Rep. Scott Schwab, a member of the House tax committee.

“Folks really think we need to honor sunsets on taxes, and it’s hard to argue with that,” he said.

Others said the vote against the plan in the House on Tuesday showed that some Republican lawmakers want to keep the sales tax at 6.3 cents, with a lower tax on food, while some want to let the higher sales tax lapse.

Some Senators who watched the House debate weren’t sure what to glean.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce said he had heard mixed reviews from House members about the Senate’s tax plan, which called for keeping the sales tax at 6.3 percent but lowering it for food to 4.95 percent. The House rejected the Senate plan Friday.

Bruce said he heard from House Republicans who support lowering sales taxes on food but had problems phasing out itemized deductions, such as the one for home mortgage interest.

“There are a lot of moving pieces that we need to re-evaluate,” Bruce said.

Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said more work needs to be done to understand why the House voted the way it did. At least the Senate now has a better view of the House’s position on taxes, he said.

“It does get us a step closer to compromise,” he said, “even though it doesn’t look like that as we sit here.”