TOPEKA — The GOP-controlled House and Senate are at an impasse over tax policy in Kansas, unable to agree on even how much to project state revenue will grow, Senate President Susan Wagle said Tuesday.
Wagle, R-Wichita, said it could be a lengthy roller-coaster ride before lawmakers can adjourn with a tax and spending plan.
“Put on your seat belts,” she warned.
Meanwhile, Senate GOP leaders said House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, referred to Wagle as childish and egotistical for sticking to the Senate’s proposal to extend a temporary sales tax to help pay for deep income tax cuts approved last year and for future rate reductions.
Merrick’s assistants say they don’t recall him using those words as he addressed freshmen House Republicans on Tuesday. But they said it’s a frustrating time of year.
A copy of Merrick’s talking points say Wagle has refused to let the Senate’s chief tax negotiators meet to discuss a compromise with the House and that the Senate has tried to scare the House into folding on its tax plan, which doesn’t include the sales tax extension, by projecting the Legislature will meet through next weekend.
Wagle said the private meetings on taxes have led to a series of proposals. None has been publicly released.
She said the House’s proposals are based on unrealistic growth in state revenue and at least $140 million more in cuts to state government beyond what Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed.
“This is very emotional,” Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, told fellow Senate Republicans after accusations of name-calling emerged. “Sometimes our tempers get the best of us.”
Big consequences hang in the balance.
The House and Senate appear poised to cut the higher-education budget by 2 to 4 percent, potentially spurring tuition increases and staff cuts at state universities. They’re also poised to cut $2 million of the $5 million the state usually spends on the National Center on Aviation Training in Wichita, which trains work-ready employees for the state’s cornerstone aviation sector.
The tax-cut proposals could have consequences for the state’s economy while also potentially forcing Kansans to continue paying a little more for voluntary purchases. A 1-cent sales tax originally was approved to protect state services from deep cuts during the recession; part of it is scheduled to expire this summer.
The Senate proposal seeks to extend the sales tax to help pay for income tax cuts. The House plan would allow the tax to expire as scheduled.
House and Senate Republicans, who outnumber Democrats, continue to vent frustration about being locked out from the private tax and spending negotiations being conducted by Brownback and top Republican leaders.
“I would like to feel that I have more knowledge than I do of what’s being offered and what’s being done,” said Rep. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona.
Republicans pressed for a joint meeting between House and Senate Republicans to try to reach a better understanding.
Sen. Jeff Melcher, R-Leawood, said he doesn’t think many senators or representatives fully understand the ongoing House and Senate budget proposals.
“I think communication would help,” he said.
Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg, said the House budget proposal cuts money that could expedite conceal carry permits that are being delayed and fee money for the parks and wildlife system that is supposed to become more self-sustaining. Those types of moves, he said, could lead to budget problems year after year.
“We’ve had five very tough years in a row, and we have an opportunity to fix this,” he said. “And I’d like to see us fix this regardless of how long it takes.”
Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, questioned whether lawmakers need to be in Topeka collecting paychecks – at $211 per person per day – if the discussion essentially is among a few leaders.
“My district would rather see me home doing my job and being in my community listening to them than sitting up here waiting,” he said. “This is going to be bad publicity coming out of this.”
Conservative Republican leaders had predicted an 80-day legislative session, 10 days short of the normal session’s length. The 80th day was Monday.
Ostmeyer said it sounds as if the session could grind on for another week.
“With two conservative leaders in two chambers, I’m disappointed that we’re at a logjam on this,” he said.