TOPEKA — Democrats and moderate Republicans pushed a $13.6 billion state budget through the Kansas House on Saturday after a nearly overnight debate, but delayed voting on a sales tax increase needed to sustain the plan's education and social services funding.
The House's 71-52 vote sent the bill to the Senate, where leaders were hoping to vote on the plan without considering any changes. Senate approval would send the bill, which covers the fiscal year beginning July 1, to Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson, who supports it.
House members spent 18 hours debating the budget and numerous amendments before breaking just before dawn Saturday. They returned that afternoon to take the final vote.
The proposed budget won't balance without a tax hike, but the Senate has approved a bill that would raise $314 million during the next fiscal year by boosting the state's 5.3 percent sales tax to 6.3 percent.
Democrats and moderate Republicans in the House were confident they could push through the Senate's tax plan without any changes but wanted to wait until lawmakers finished all other business. The GOP-controlled Legislature hoped to adjourn its annual session late Saturday or early today.
"The tax package is the last piece of business," said Rep. Charles Roth, R-Salina, who helped lead the coalition of lawmakers that backed the House budget plan.
Coalition members have been negotiating with each other and a similar alliance in the Senate to get around the House's conservative GOP leaders, who oppose raising taxes and proposed trimming funds to public schools to help balance the next budget.
Diane Gjerstad, lobbyist for the Wichita school district, said the budget the House passed Saturday means schools would receive the same funding as they did this school year, but that doesn't mean school districts won't have to cut their budgets.
The cost of business for schools rises each year with increased expenses including employee contracts, utilities, more students and inflation, she said.
"Schools will need to balance that increase with no new money," Gjerstad said.
Conservative Republicans have said that if the House coalition has the votes to pass a tax increase, lawmakers should vote and shorten the legislative session. But three times Friday and Saturday, coalition member blocked a vote on the tax plan. That makes conservative GOP legislators suspicious that some votes on the tax bill depend on passage of other legislation.
"I suspect there are yes votes on that (budget) that are no's on taxes," said House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson. "They're not there yet."
In the Senate, leaders wanted time to review the House budget proposal, though they sensed it ultimately would pass because it was similar to a plan drafted by moderate Republicans there. But senators in all camps weren't sure their chamber would be willing to vote on a spending plan until the House passed the tax bill to prevent a deficit.
"We're not going to jump before they do," said Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard.
Also in the mix Saturday was a bill that would rewrite the state's education funding law. The statute not only determines how the state distributes more than $3 billion in aid to its 293 school districts but also dictates how much districts can levy in property taxes.
Johnson County legislators want to revise the law so school districts have greater authority to increase property taxes. Their schools in mostly affluent Kansas City-area suburbs tend to fare less well under a funding law that provides extra dollars for poor and at-risk students.
A bill rewriting the school funding law — described even by supporters as "Johnson County candy" — was being considered in the House. But many rural legislators oppose it because their schools don't have as much property wealth, and a similar proposal failed this week in the Senate.
Conservative Republicans saw a bitter irony in the debate. When House GOP leaders proposed trimming education spending, they said local districts could increase property taxes and tap reserve funds. They were criticized by the same bipartisan coalition pushing for the education funding bill — allowing higher property taxes — to lure enough votes for the sales tax increase.
"The difference is that it's part of the package deal," said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita.