- Associated Press - Saturday, April 29, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Like students who perpetually put off big projects, Kansas lawmakers are waiting until pressing deadlines loom to make the year’s biggest decisions on taxes and spending.

The Republican-controlled Legislature returns Monday from its annual spring break to finish business for the year with the thorniest issues far from resolved - and the resolutions are no closer than they were when the session started in January.

On the table: Funding and passing a state budget that includes enough money for schools to meet state Supreme Court demands for increased funding.

While GOP leaders hope the work can be completed by mid-May, the talks could drag into June, as they did in 2015.

A look at the biggest issues for lawmakers:



Since the Legislature passed Brownback’s desired massive personal income tax cuts in 2012 and 2013, the state has struggled to fund the state budget. Efforts to cut and find efficiencies have not come close to closing budget gaps created by cutting income taxes and slumps in agriculture and energy production. The state now faces projected budget shortfalls totaling $889 million through June 2019, and legislators expect to increase taxes. The state constitution prohibits a deficit.

A new budget would authorize spending starting July 1, but state payroll rules require that a budget be in place by mid-June to keep employees on the job.

The Senate has passed proposed budgets for each of the next two fiscal years that don’t balance, while the House has yet to debate a budget.

Bipartisan majorities passed a bill in February to increase income taxes to raise more than $1 billion over two years, in part by rolling back Brownback’s tax cuts, but the governor vetoed it. Republican leaders said several new income-tax plans are in the works.

“We’re hoping that we can knock it out in the first week,” said Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican.



Denning’s goal might be too optimistic. Besides disagreeing on details of a new tax plan, legislators still are debating how much to increase taxes.

“We have yet to present a proposal that has any consensus around it,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, the top Democrat on the Senate budget committee.

Legislative researchers have told the House and Senate budget committees that they need to raise between $303 million and $355 million over two years, based on spending recommendations they’ve pursued.

But those figures assume lawmakers divert $581 million from highway projects to education, social services and other government programs. Some legislators say the state already has siphoned too much money from transportation.

The figures also don’t include extra aid for public schools after the state Supreme Court ruled in March that education funding is inadequate.

Some Democrats argue the state needs to raise between $1.5 billion and $1.8 billion in new revenue over two years to fix the state’s budget problems and provide new dollars for schools.



The Supreme Court directed legislators to enact a new school funding law by June 30.

The state now provides more than $4 billion a year in aid to public schools, and a House committee’s plan would phase in a $750 million increase over five years.

Many Republicans question whether satisfying the court requires that much money.

Legislators also must decide exactly how dollars are distributed to the state’s 286 school districts through a per-student formula and how much to limit local tax levies that supplement state funding. Rural, urban and suburban lawmakers are likely to clash.



Guns, abortion and expanding Medicaid also will be on lawmakers’ agenda.

Legislators in both parties want to expand state health coverage for the poor, needy and disabled under former President Barack Obama’s signature federal health care law. Brownback vetoed a bill earlier this month, but the possibility that one of two Topeka community hospitals could close this summer spotlighted the issue again.

Lawmakers also expect to consider proposals aimed at keeping concealed guns out of public hospitals and off university campuses and new disclosure requirements for abortion providers.


Associated Press writer Allison Kite contributed to this report.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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