TOPEKA — It’s crunch time in the Capitol, and lawmakers have a lot on the line in deciding whether to let a temporary sales tax hike expire or deal with the loss in revenue that will compound budget problems, perhaps forcing deeper cuts.
Gov. Sam Brownback is standing pat on his push to keep the six-tenths of a cent going indefinitely beyond its July expiration date. That extra money is necessary to avoid massive cuts to state services that would be needed now that the state will collect far less as it leaves more income tax in the pockets of business owners and other taxpayers.
“You’ve got a fiscal reality, and that’s why the tax and budget bills are so closely tied together,” Brownback said.
But there’s political reality, too.
Many lawmakers either promised to let that tax expire on time when they voted for it in 2010 or vehemently opposed it as a damaging tax. Meanwhile, many of the record batch of freshman lawmakers ran on campaigns that promised to cut both taxes and spending.
“I think they need some time to digest the connection between the budget and tax picture,” Brownback said.
Lawmakers flirted with tapping into money intended for long-term transportation improvements. But it proved unpopular because Brownback’s administration has pointed to projects that would be delayed or canceled.
“We’re showing people what your options are,” Brownback said. “There are not a lot of them. Without some major cuts in probably a lot of places, I don’t know how else you do it.”
The House and Senate have each passed plans. Both depart from Brownback’s proposal, which sought to make up for problems caused by the bill he signed last year after lawmakers drastically altered his proposal in hopes of making it too problematic to pass or gain the governor’s signature.
Democrats have ripped both plans, calling them big tax hikes because they either erode popular deductions that benefit homeowners and the poor, or they do that plus maintain the sales tax rate – which they view as an increase since it’s due to expire in July.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said the tax cuts approved last year were far too big.
“Now they’re trying to put multiple Band-Aids on it and they’re doing it in a way that’s shifting the tax liability to the middle and low income tax level,” he said.