The latest attempt to quash Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts has been paired with a new school finance formula the Kansas Supreme Court demanded from state lawmakers.
The idea came to life Sunday on the 107th day of the Kansas Legislature’s annual session, which continues to be among the longest in state history.
Lawmakers are still struggling to bring the session to an end, though passing a combined bill may ensure the end is in sight.
The tax proposal is estimated to bring in more than $500 million per year in future fiscal years as the state attempts to close projected budget shortfalls and send more money to public schools in an effort to please the state’s high court.
“We think it strengthens the deal,” Rep. Larry Campbell, an Olathe Republican, said about including the tax plan with the school finance bill.
Democrats objected to the move, though an effort to kill the bill in a procedural vote failed Sunday.
“This is a very weaselly way to get us towards a very uncertain outcome,” Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, said about the bill.
Lawmakers in the House did not debate the bill Sunday, though a vote on the bill could come later.
The school finance plan increases education funding by roughly $180 million next school year and then around $100 million on top of that the year after. Democrats have said that funding is “woefully inadequate,” while some Republicans have defended the plan.
The school finance proposal would also expand a controversial program that provides a tax credit to corporations that donate to tuition scholarships for students that go to private schools. Under the plan, individuals would become eligible for the tax credit.
Through the tax plan portion of the bill, individual income tax rates would increase and a third tax bracket would return. Brownback’s 2012 tax exemption for certain business owners would also be thrown out by the plan.
It’s unclear what Brownback will do if the joint proposal passes the Legislature.
“We’re hoping that this will give him another reason not to veto,” Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said of the paired proposal.
Brownback released a statement last week on school finance asking for several “improvements be made to the legislation.” The governor also made a point of asking lawmakers to “expand educational opportunities available to the bottom 25 percent.”
Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said after hearing about the combined plan “that this just seems to be going backwards.”
“It’s hard for me to understand what they’re thinking and how they think that this is a good idea,” Kelly said.
Lawmakers have been debating the particulars of tax policy and school finance for weeks as the Kansas Legislature has gone into overtime.
The income tax increases in the plan are similar to recent rollbacks of the governor’s economic policy that have failed to successfully pass into law.
The new plan actually offers less money from income taxes than a proposal the Senate approved but the House rejected last week.
Some Democrats have said the tax plans need to raise more money as lawmakers try to solve adequacy issues the Kansas Supreme Court has outlined about the state’s K-12 education system.
House Majority Leader Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican, talked to House Republicans about the plan when legislators returned to the session Sunday afternoon.
“What that would do is, going forward, 100 percent of personal income tax revenue would be dedicated to K-12,” Hineman said.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said the combination of items in such a deal would set bad precedent.
“I absolutely think it’s horrendous policy to do three things in one bill: policy, money and raise taxes,” Ward said.
Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican, was more open to the proposal early Sunday afternoon.
“I think it’s something that’s worth trying,” she said. “We’ve got to get something going in the House.”
Sen. John Skubal, an Overland Park Republican, said he was skeptical about the bundled proposal.
He said he didn’t think there were enough votes to pass it.
“I don’t think it will work,” Skubal said.
The Wichita Eagle’s Jonathan Shorman contributed to this report.