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With Four Plans In Play, Kansas Senate Heads Toward Tax Debate

Stephen Koranda
KPR/File Photo

The Kansas Senate is setting itself up for a wide-ranging floor debate this week on tax plans to end a series of annual budget deficits by raising more revenue.

Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine said the inability to privately rally 21 votes for a plan means it’s time to get ideas out in the open and see what rises to the top.

“What we’re trying to do is get all the tax proposals that we have through committee, make sure they’ve had proper hearings and that people understand the ins and outs of each one of those tax proposals,” he said. “Then I think our plans are to just start bringing them to the floor and voting on them and seeing what we can get 21 for.”

The floor debates, expected to begin Thursday, could include at least four distinct plans that span the political spectrum.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan, Senate Bill 175, relies largely on increases in tobacco and alcohol taxes and the assumption of future economic growth. Brownback’s acting revenue secretary, Sam Williams, told legislators Monday that the plan is essentially a short-term fix geared around preserving the governor’s signature 2012 income tax changes.

Democrats have a proposal, Senate Bill 188, that they say is essentially a repeal of Brownback’s 2012 plan. It would put non-wage income for more than 300,000 business owners back on the tax rolls and restore a third tax bracket at 6.45 percent that applies to annual income above $35,000 for individuals and $70,000 for couples.

Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a moderate Republican from Topeka, introduced a plan Monday between those two. It also puts the business owners back on the tax rolls and establishes a third tax bracket but sets it at 6.1 percent.

It’s the first tax bill Schmidt has introduced after more than a decade in the Senate. But she said she hopes to build consensus, as instructed by Senate leaders and her constituents, with her tax proposal.

“I knocked on a lot of doors this summer and many, many people told me they want people to work together and find solutions to problems that we currently have,” said Schmidt, a pharmacist who specializes in health policy. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

"I knocked on a lot of doors this summer and many, many people told me they want people to work together and find solutions to problems that we currently have. That’s what I’m trying to do."

The Senate also could consider Senate Bill 97. That bill wipes out the business tax exemption as well, but instead of adding an income tax bracket it enacts a single flat tax — a concept popular with some conservatives — at 3.9 percent. It also would lower the state sales tax on groceries from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent.

All of the proposals aim to close a budget gap of more than $500 million in the fiscal year that begins in July. None would fully address a gap of more than $300 million in the current fiscal year.

Sen. Marci Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat, said legislators are likely to borrow money from an investment fund to do that because of the urgency of the situation.

“But there’s a lot of people who would be very wary of doing that if we don’t have a structural fix [for the following years],” Francisco said.

Andy Marso is a reporter for KCUR’s Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics in Kansas. You can reach him on Twitter @andymarso.