Government & Politics

Gov. Sam Brownback declines to reveal how Kansas should close budget deficit

Gov. Sam Brownback, right, talks with state Sen. Jacob LaTurner, a Pittsburg Republican, in the Capitol on Monday.
Gov. Sam Brownback, right, talks with state Sen. Jacob LaTurner, a Pittsburg Republican, in the Capitol on Monday. Bryan Lowry

Gov. Sam Brownback would not support, or offer, a specific plan for closing the state’s budget hole when pressed Monday.

The state faces a budget hole of more than $400 million. Tax proposals Brownback offered in January would fill about half of that gap, but the governor has not offered a specific plan to fill the rest of shortfall since revenue estimates were lowered last month.

Brownback said he has been meeting with lawmakers about different options. But he would not make details of those talks public as the Legislature enters its third week of its wrap-up session with no clear budget fix in sight.

“We’ve been floating different ideas,” Brownback said. “I don’t think that it’s useful in the process right now to be putting out grand plans. This is really the time that the Legislature’s really got to come around to with what they decide.”

“We have lots of different ideas,” Brownback said. Asked if he would share a specific example, the governor replied, “Nope.”

The governor has generally favored the idea of raising consumption taxes rather than changing an income exemption for business owners. In recent weeks, a divide has formed between Republican lawmakers over whether to fill the hole entirely through a sales tax increase or to use a combination of taxes, including ending the business income exemption.

A proposal to close the loophole and place business owners back on the tax rolls would bring in an estimated $232 million.

A plan to raise the sales tax from 6.15 percent to 7.15 percent — or an extra cent for every dollar of an item’s sticker price — would bring in $426 million. That’s enough to close the entirety of next year’s hole.

Another idea being weighed by lawmakers would raise the sales tax to 6.5 percent to bring in an extra $164 million and another would raise it to 6.5 percent on all purchases except food, which remain at 6.15 percent, bringing in $143 million. Kansas is one of only a handful of states to tax food at the same rate as other items — most states exempt food from tax.

Brownback would not say if he supported any of these options and whether he supported raising the sales tax to a specific level.

“My years in this building have said the best thing for me is to try and encourage people to come together around some agreement, not to generally be out there saying you ought to do this or not do that,” Brownback said.

To reach Bryan Lowry, call 785-296-3006 or send email to blowry@wichitaeagle.com. On Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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