Archive for Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Statehouse Live: Tax, budget bills sent to governor

May 11, 2010

TOPEKA — In a dramatic vote, the Kansas House early Tuesday approved a $314 million state sales tax increase to fix the budget crisis and bring the 2010 session close to an end.

The 64-61 vote came after months of bitter debate and required some last minute arm-twisting and vote-shifting after the roll call was kept open for more than 4 hours. One legislator was summoned back from Coffeyville and the final vote was taken after 2 a.m.

On Monday, the Senate, with the bare minimum 21 votes, OK’d a $13.6 billion budget.

Both the budget and tax increase have now been approved by both chambers and will go to Gov. Mark Parkinson, who has indicated support.

Under the tax bill, the state sales tax will go from 5.3 cents per dollar to 6.3 cents per dollar for three years, starting on July 1. Then on July 1, 2013, the tax will decrease to 5.7 cents per dollar with revenue from four-tenths of a cent going toward highway construction.

The budget and tax bills had been crafted by a coalition of Democrats and some Republicans over the objections of a majority of Republicans, including House leaders, who opposed a tax increase and wanted more cuts.

State Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, said the tax increase will hurt the economy. “We are voting to put Kansans out of work,” Kinzer said.

But the coalition, backed by Parkinson, a Democrat, contended that the tax increase was needed to avoid devastating cuts to schools, social services and public safety.

And, they argued, failing to pass a state tax increase would simply force local governments to increase property taxes.

“We can either take responsibility and do it here, or we can put it on the local people. I’m taking responsibility,” said state Rep. Vincent Wetta, D-Wellington.

When Kansas fell into the national recession, state coffers dried up. For the first time in modern history, Kansas experienced a decline in tax revenues for consecutive years. State officials cut nearly $1 billion as revenue declined and still Kansas faced another $500 million shortfall.

The bi-partisan coalition fashioned taxes and budget maneuvers to cover that $500 million gap.

Area legislators who voted for the tax bill were Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, Tony Brown, D-Baldwin City, Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, Ann Mah, D-Topeka, and Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence. Those voting against it were Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, and Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie.

After the vote, Parkinson issued a statement, saying the increased tax would prevent "permanent damage to our children's education, our communities' public safety and the care we provide to vulnerable citizens." He added, "No tax is a good tax, but a penny is a small price to pay for a state as great as ours."

The tax increase has drawn the ire of several groups, especially the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

On Saturday, Chamber President Kent Beisner criticized legislators, saying, “As of today, the Legislature has failed to address the needs and wishes of the business community. It has instead catered to the needs of those at the government trough."

That prompted a response Monday from Parkinson, criticizing the Chamber for “fanning the flames of partisanship.”

He added, “It is heartbreaking to think that somebody would equate the disabled, the elderly, school children, veterans, law enforcement and the poor to pigs at a trough. The hurtful words of the Chamber are not reflective of the Kansas I know and love, and they are not acceptable in a time of crisis.”

Despite progress on the budget and taxes, a number of issues still are scheduled to be dealt with, including a transportation plan, increased seat belt enforcement and a nursing home bed tax.

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