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UPDATE: Lawmakers Pass Tax Plan To Beat Budget Deadline

Stephen Koranda
KPR/File photo

Kansas lawmakers will be back for one more day later this month. That will be the ceremonial end to the 2015 legislative session, the longest in state history. As KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports, they wrapped up their normal work late Friday and left Topeka.

Lawmakers faced an $800 million deficit, but they had found ways to fill around half of that. They struggled to pass a tax plan to fill a $400 million remaining hole in the budget. The situation was made more serious when Governor Sam Brownback gave lawmakers a deadline to pass a plan or face massive budget cuts.

To get the votes needed, legislative leaders took a turn to the right, politically, and appealed to conservatives. They put together a plan that will increase the sales tax, reduce tax deductions and further cut the budget. Add in the pressure of the impending deadline and the bill passed both chambers with the minimum number of votes needed.

The income tax cuts backed by Gov. Sam Brownback emerged mostly intact from the legislative session. But fellow Republicans say they are wondering how they're going to defend increases in other taxes.

The final budget bill represents the largest tax increase in state history and Kansas now has one of the nation's highest sales tax rates. Senate President Susan Wagle says the measure was a very difficult vote for her fellow Republicans.

Republican lawmakers repeatedly resisted tax hikes, and Gov. Brownback said he would not accept the elimination of tax exemptions for businesses. Approval of the increases came only after top Brownback aides warned of across-the-board spending cuts.

When the session finally ended, it was the longest annual session in state history, at 113 days.

Original story published June 12, 2015

The Kansas Senate has approved a tax bill that passed the House early this morning, meaning the 2015 legislative session could end as soon as today. The 21-19 vote sends the bill to Gov. Sam Brownback for consideration.

The bill increases the sales tax rate and eliminates tax deductions to help fill a budget hole. It also slows some income tax rates cuts.

Democrats criticized the plan for not amending the 2012 tax cuts, which they say caused the budget problems.

“A vote for this bill is a vote to protect reckless income tax cuts, keep those in place, and even go further,” says Anthony Hensley, the top Democrat in the Senate.

Gov. Brownback has said if a tax plan wasn’t passed by Monday he would begin cutting state government.

Some Senators wanted to reduce the food sales tax rate as part of the plan, but that was removed in the House. Republican Sen. Mike Petersen was willing to compromise to avoid cuts to state services, universities and K-12 schools.

“I do not think this chamber should give up the fight to lower the sales tax on food, but at this point, the alternative if we pass nothing is more devastating on our counties,” Petersen says.

Today is day 113 of the legislative session, making it the longest in state history. The previous record was 107 days.

Kansas legislators have approved increases in sales and cigarette taxes to erase a budget deficit and avert deep spending cuts.

Gov. Brownback released a statement on the passage of Senate Substitute for HB 2109:  

“I greatly appreciate the hard work of the Legislature in passing the budget and a tax bill that meets our Constitutional obligation to provide sufficient revenue to fund budget appropriations. I congratulate them on coming together in a spirit of cooperation and compromise to do what is right for Kansas." “This bill keeps the state on a path of economic growth, creating well-paying jobs that benefit all Kansans. "It continues our transition from taxes on productivity to consumption-based taxes and provides a mechanism for reducing income tax rates for all our citizens. “I thank the Legislature for completing the final actions of this legislative session: passing a pro-growth tax policy and a balanced budget.”

Stephen Koranda is the managing editor of the Kansas News Service, based at KCUR. He has nearly 20 years of experience in public media as a reporter and editor.