AP: Kansas legislators move forward on budget, taxes

5/22/2013

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas lawmakers signaled Tuesday that they're nearing a deal on a new state budget, as the House prepared for a floor vote on what could be the final version of the $14.5 billion proposal.

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas lawmakers signaled Tuesday that they're nearing a deal on a new state budget, as the House prepared for a floor vote on what could be the final version of the $14.5 billion proposal.

With the House planning to vote Wednesday on a budget for the fiscal year that starts in July, negotiators from both chambers expressed optimism. The vote would be the first by either chamber since legislators returned May 8 from a monthlong break.

Details on the plan weren't immediately released, and Senate and House negotiators were to meet late Tuesday afternoon to make the procedural moves.

Meanwhile, senators have offered a compromise on taxes, proposing to lower the state's sales tax rate from 6.3 percent to 6.25 percent and making to changes to tax code regarding deductions. GOP leaders have been at odds over what to do with the sales tax rate, which is scheduled to drop from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent in July.

More talks were scheduled Tuesday.

The progress comes on the heels of a joint meeting of House and Senate freshmen Republicans in effort to jumpstart progress in the session. Legislators returned to the Statehouse with hopes of making quick work of budget and taxes but have been at impasse for much of the time.

"I think we're getting bits and pieces of information in between our chambers and that leads us to different conclusions," said Sen. Jeff Melcher, a Leawood Republican.

The meeting was organized by Melcher and Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady, a Palco Republican, who said the goal was to lay out all tax proposals and hear suggestions from the freshmen.

The biggest budget disagreement is about higher education spending. Both chambers want to cut, but the House wants to go deeper than the Senate. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback wants no cuts.

Brownback said following an unrelated event in the Statehouse that he was hopeful cuts to colleges and universities could be avoided. He toured the state in April and early May to build support for keeping higher education funding stable during the next budget year.

The biggest conflict on taxes is about Brownback's plan to stabilize the budget by canceling a scheduled decrease in the sales tax. The Senate has approved the measure, and the House wants the tax to decrease. Brownback denied giving legislators an ultimatum on what he would sign or reject if sent to his desk.

"I've never told anybody I would veto anything at this point in time," the governor said. "That's not the way I operate. I meet with people and we talk and try to hash things (out)."

Brownback proposes keeping the sales tax rate at 6.3 percent instead of declining to 5.7 percent as required by law in July. The Senate has endorsed that move but the House has countered with a proposal to drop the rate to 6 percent. Both chambers are proposing plans that would further reduce the Kansas income tax rates, building on cuts enacted in 2012.

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