TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas legislators faced writing a new plan Sunday for raising taxes to erase a projected budget shortfall after top Republican senators were thwarted in their efforts to separate and pass several revenue proposals with broad GOP support.
Disagreements on tax issues among Republicans who control the Legislature made this year's annual session the longest in state history, at 108 days Sunday. Legislators also were planning to meet Monday, the 109th day.
The impasse has kept lawmakers from approving a full budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 and threatened to force the state to furlough thousands of workers next week. But lawmakers passed a bill to avert a partial government shutdown, GOP Gov. Sam Brownback signed it and the new law took effect Saturday night.
Legislators must raise taxes more than $400 million during the next fiscal year to erase the projected shortfall. The gap arose after lawmakers slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging as an economic stimulus.
The most contentious issues are how much to increase the state's 6.15 percent and how much to backtrack on a 2012 policy championed by Brownback that allowed 281,000 business owners and 53,000 farmers to avoid income taxes on their profits. The governor has threatened to veto any plan that increases taxes for those business owners and farmers by more than $24 million during the next fiscal year.
Three Senate and three House negotiators were meeting Sunday, and the Senate expected to consider their latest plan later in the day.
"We think the concept here is to try to return one more time to more of a global solution," said the House's lead negotiator, Republican Rep. Marvin Kleeb of Overland Park.
Legislators approved one piece Saturday, a bill that more than triples a tax on HMOs' premiums to raise $48 million toward closing the budget shortfall. The votes were 28-11 in the Senate and 63-41 in the House, and the measure goes next to Brownback, who is expected to sign it.
Other proposals enjoy broad GOP support. One would create a short-term amnesty program, waiving penalties and interest for delinquent taxpayers who settle their bills in full from Sept. 1 to Oct. 15. Another would eliminate all of state's personal income tax deductions except for charitable contributions, half of the property taxes paid by homeowners and half of the interest paid on their home mortgages.
Senate GOP leaders pushed a plan to separate those items and a cigarette tax increase of 50 cents a pack to $1.29 from other tax issues and pass them in a separate bill. But senators never debated the idea.
The Senate's top tax negotiator, Republican Sen. Les Donovan, of Wichita, said later that other lawmakers didn't want to pass the more popular proposals separately because they hoped to meld them with ideas they were pursuing.
"It was extremely frustrating," Donovan said.
Each extra day of the Legislature's annual session is costing the state more than $40,000. Lawmakers traditionally schedule their sessions to last 90 days, and the previous record of 107 days was set in 2002 — another year lawmakers increased taxes to close a budget gap.
Furloughs had loomed because employees' compensation lags several weeks behind their work, so their pay for the two-week period beginning Sunday won't be distributed until early July. The new law allows workers to stay on the job for several weeks even though the state won't have the authority to pay them until a budget for the next fiscal year is in place.
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org
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