Topeka — Sen. Wint Winter Jr., R-Lawrence, appeared shocked Thursday afternoon upon hearing Gov. Joan Finney's two plans to repeal sales tax exemptions to raise money for property tax relief.
"WHAT? . . . WHAT?" Winter shouted, when told about the governor's two plans.
One would impose a 1 percent sales tax on 32 items currently exempted from the tax; the other calls for imposing the full sales tax on all exempted items and then lowering the state sales tax from 4.25 percent to 3.5 percent.
Winter said he was upset because the governor had stressed Tuesday she favored no new taxes and favored repealing only a few exemptions that wouldn't affect most people. However, the governor's latest proposals sounded similar to her ill-fated tax plan from last year, Winter said.
"This is not the kinder and gentler Governor Finney that was here on Tuesday," Winter said. "We're right back in the same mudhole it put us in last year."
LATER, after Winter had a chance to review the list of exemptions Finney had revealed would be acceptable to her, he toned down his criticism.
"I want to back off my formerly outrageous tirade and look on the positive side," he said. "I said I don't agree with this. I think it taxes people. And I think it breaks her word of no new taxes. But it might represent the first step in the process to compromise."
Winter said he was pleased to see Finney wants to keep exemptions on such items as prosthetic devices, prescription drugs and meals delivered to the home-bound elderly.
"I think it's positive she's taken these out," he said.
Still, Winter said, he was upset Finney wants to put sales taxes on items such as school textbooks, home heating bills, water bills and telephone bills.
"A LOT of these are right out of the pockets of homeowners," he said.
"On the plus side, by her acknowledgement that there are some she wants to take out, it may be the first step in a process that we can find some middle ground."
Other local legislators were also somewhat critical of the exemptions the governor targeted.
"We looked at sales tax exemptions last year," said Rep. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence. "I'm surprised she's bringing it up again."
Praeger said repealing sales tax exemptions on heating and light bills and on coin-operated laundry machines will hit people with low incomes the hardest.
"When you're looking at trying to raise $105 million you have to look at raising the big dollars," she said.
REP. JOHN Solbach, D-Lawrence, said lawmakers need to consider the governor's plans, but they also must examine other revenue-raising alternatives.
"It's just very obvious to me that an income tax is much more fair than a sales tax," Solbach said. "I think we have an obligation to give due consideration to whatever the governor proposes. . . . We'll have to look at that and see how it fits in the scheme of taxes. And we'll look at whether there are reasons for the sales tax exemptions, such as economic development or other public policy purposes for those exemptions, or whether they were just exemptions given because someone had a powerful lobby that year."
Solbach said that since he has been in the Legislature, lawmakers have exempted sales tax collection on prescription drugs, used farm machinery and utility bills.
REP. BETTY JO Charlton, D-Lawrence, was one of the legislators invited to Finney's office Thursday morning to hear the governor's sales tax exemption proposals.
Charlton said the list is a starting place to look at sales tax exemptions.
"I've been over this list every year for the last five years," said Charlton, who serves on the House Taxation Committee. "There are arguments for and against almost all of them."
Charlton said she was pleased that Finney met with legislators to explain her proposals.
"I think the meeting was a good thing to have because there was an agreement between the members of the tax committee and the governor on goals," she said. "The difference will be on the details and some will express their feelings, but not in a confrontational way."