The Kansas Legislature has officially reached overtime with the 2015 session. Legislators have failed to pass a budget or a tax plan before the 90-day deadline. As such, legislative staffs—mainly office assistants—are no longer in the Capitol, and legislators will have to fend for themselves on most things clerical.
The main hold up is the tax plan. Both chambers have a reasonable grasp on how much the state will spend but no idea on how to pay for those expenses. Last Friday the Kansas House attempted to pass a tax plan calling for a higher state sales tax that was met with a resounding defeat.
This plan, H. Sub. for SB 270, would raise the state sales tax rate from 6.15 percent to 6.85 percent but lower the tax on food to 5.90 percent. This would raise nearly $140 million. Itemized deductions would be limited to property tax, mortgage interest, and charitable contributions. The standard deduction would remain at $7,500 for married couples but only $3,000 for singles. The state would offer tax amnesty to individuals who failed to pay taxes. This would generate $30 million. After all this, the ending balance would only be $16.1 million for FY17. Not nearly enough to handle any missed revenue projections.
The sales tax increase is a nonstarter with conservatives and most believe the democrats will not vote for any tax increase. And don’t expect any help from the Senate because they are dealing with a member who only wants to raise property taxes on farmers in western Kansas. With this being said, it was no surprise that H. Sub. for SB 270 failed on a voice vote.
The plan is to reconvene this week and try to find some common ground between all factions. One idea floating around in a 4-6 percent across the board cut. This would get votes from small government legislators and allow them to hold their nose for some form of tax hike.
As for the judicial branch budget, the conference committee reached an agreement yesterday. Attached you will find two PDFs that list the differences in each bill. You will notice the House bill appropriating more money for both FY16 and FY17. The House also has a severability clause that allows the funding sources to survive any constitutional challenge. The Senate version has the exact opposite language. The agreement was to fund the court’s based on the House proposal but keep all the policy language crafted by the Senate.
The heartburn was the nonseverability clause. House negotiators were concerned that funding levels may not be kept level next fiscal year but the nonseverability clause would remain. The answer was to draft language keeping funding static. Democrats on the conference committee refused to sign the report so procedurally both chambers will have to run a "Agree to Disagree” motion in order for the report to be passed with less than unanimous agreement.
Not much else going on but with so much free time some legislators may begin to get bored and try to work some pet projects. We will see how this all unfolds.