- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 10, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislators on Wednesday spiked a proposal that would have increased income taxes to fix the state budget only hours after reviving it, highlighting divisions in both parties that continue to stall work on closing budget gaps and providing additional dollars for public schools.

The Senate voted 22-18 against a bill that would have rolled back past income tax cuts championed by conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to raise more than $1 billion in new revenue over the next two years. The measure was almost identical to a measure top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature shelved last week for lack of support, but those leaders thought the prospect of weeks of gridlock would cause many lawmakers to rethink their opposition.

Kansas faces projected budget shortfalls totaling $887 million through June 2019 following income tax cuts in 2012 and 2013 touted by Brownback as pro-growth policies and later slumps in agriculture and oil production. The plan rejected by the Senate would have covered those gaps.

But the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in March that the state’s funding for public schools is inadequate, and Democrats and moderate Republicans did not think the plan would be large enough to provide enough new education dollars. Meanwhile, conservatives argued that lawmakers should be looking to control spending before considering higher taxes.

“I think we went backwards,” said Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican who supported the measure. “This plan was as rich as many feel they could ever vote for.”

Some Democrats supported the plan but argued that it would be only a first step because lawmakers must respond to the Supreme Court’s decision. Several rejected Longbine’s suggestion that legislators must start considering smaller proposed income tax increases and work toward a plan Brownback can sign rather than toward one with the two-thirds majorities necessary to override a veto. Brownback vetoed a smaller proposed income tax increase in February.

“How can you vote for something that doesn’t fund the schools?” Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, said.

House and Senate committees worked Wednesday on bills that would increase the state’s $4 billion-plus a year in aid to its 286 school districts while creating a new per-pupil formula to better target funds to programs for at-risk students. The House plan phases in a $762 million increase over five years.

The Supreme Court gave lawmakers until June 30 to write a new school finance law.

Some Democrat and moderate Republicans have argued that a tax plan must raise $1.4 billion or $1.5 billion over two years.

The tax plan rejected by the Senate would have repealed an income tax exemption granted in 2012 for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners. It also would have returned Kansas to having three personal income tax rates, as it did before tax cuts enacted in 2012, boosting the state’s top rate to 5.6 percent from 4.6 percent.


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

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