Kansas lawmakers tweak tax plan, mull school aid proposal

(KSNT Photo/Alec Gartner)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators hoped Wednesday to advance a proposal for increasing state spending on public schools while colleagues looked for the right mix of tax increases to fund it and fill big holes elsewhere in the state budget.

House and Senate negotiators were still tweaking the details of a new tax plan, agreeing on a package that would raise $952 million over two years. It would boost income taxes, raise liquor taxes and impose the state’s sales tax on a few services that are not taxed now, such as towing, security and customized computer software. Negotiators dropped in a promise to slightly reduce the state’s sales tax on food in 2020 to make the new service taxes an easier sell.

The plan represents a step away from rolling back past income tax cuts championed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. It aims to close projected budget shortfalls totaling $887 million over two years and increase aid to public schools after the state Supreme Court ruled in March that education funding is inadequate.

Republicans who back the latest tax plan believe it would raise enough new revenue to fix the budget and cover the cost of a plan for phasing in a $280 million increase in aid to public schools over two years after lawmakers take such other steps, such as diverting funds from highway projects.

The House expected to debate the tax plan Wednesday afternoon then take up the school funding plan. GOP leaders were treating the tax vote as a test to tell them whether it might be more productive to pursue a mix of tax increases that Brownback might sign into law rather than a more aggressive attempt at undoing his favored income tax cuts that would need two-thirds majorities in both chambers to override a veto.

“I think that we will learn a lot,” said House Taxation Committee Chairman Steven Johnson, a moderate Assaria Republican.

Minority Democrats opposed the mix of tax increases, and their support for a plan has been crucial because Republicans are split. Democrats also didn’t think the education funding plan boosted aid to the state’s 286 school districts enough to satisfy the Supreme Court. The justices did not say how much lawmakers must increase spending when they set a June 30 deadline to pass a new school finance law.

A Senate committee was working on its own school funding plan, and senators were waiting to see whether the House could pass the newest tax plan.

The House was debating the annual session’s two biggest issues on its 100th day. Legislative leaders months ago set Wednesday as the last day, but lawmakers are certain to work longer, making this year’s session among the longest in state history.

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