Politics & Government

Debate over Kansas tax hikes, budget cuts called off

The Senate chambers (2014)
The Senate chambers (2014) File photo

The budget cuts and tax increases have been called off for now.

Kansas lawmakers headed to the Senate floor early Thursday set to begin debate on legislation that would raise taxes and slash this year’s budget to help balance the state’s finances.

But after scheduling an early start, the Senate went into recess just after 8 a.m. so Republicans and Democrats could talk about the bills away from the Senate floor.

They then called off the debate entirely, with Republican Senate leaders saying they didn’t have the 21 votes required to pass the legislation.

“We’re going to let people go home and think about the structural deficit and talk to their constituents and come back with a fresh bit of air on Monday,” Senate President Susan Wagle said.

The series of proposals, passed out of Senate committees earlier this week, would raise income tax rates, end a tax exemption for roughly 330,000 business owners and cut state funding to K-12 schools and other agencies by roughly $154 million.

The state faces a roughly $320 million shortfall this year. That’s part of more than $1 billion in projected shortfalls the state is looking at through fiscal year 2019.

Republican Senate leaders moved quickly this week to push the legislation on to the floor for debate.

The proposed budget cuts, which would take $128 million from K-12 education and roughly $22 million from higher education, have been met with dismay and hesitance from education officials.

But Republican Senate leaders said this week the moves are necessary.

That view wasn’t held by every Republican senator as the debate neared. Opinions were scattered over the proposals during a caucus meeting Wednesday.

A series of amendments, including one that would take more money from a state investment fund to help decrease the cuts, were discussed by the Senate GOP with no clear consensus forming by the end of the meeting.

That confusion carried over into Thursday morning, when the Republican Senate leaders called off the debate.

“We don’t feel a big need to put our body through a full day of debate if we don’t have the ability to pass the bill at the end of the day,” Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine said.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said Democrats are considering their own tax change, which would reinstate a third income tax bracket that was taken away by Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts.

He said Thursday that he wasn’t sure what that third rate would be. “I think they went too far to propose a 5 percent education cut,” Hensley said of the GOP, as senators left the floor Thursday morning.