Topeka A legislator Friday proposed a $100 million tax increase to fund higher education, mostly by repealing state tax breaks given to businesses during the past few years.
Rep. R.J. Wilson, D-Pittsburg, said his proposal would meet funding commitments and avert double-digit tuition increases considered by state universities, including Kansas University.
"Either we step up to the plate and keep our promises, or simply shift the burden of this budget shortfall onto Kansas families hoping to send their children to college," Wilson said. "We are heading toward pricing many Kansas students out of an education."
Lawmakers are facing a $426 million revenue shortfall, which is expected soon to reach $600 million.
Budget proposals before the Legislature would cut funding to universities and community colleges by 4 percent, and fail to provide an additional $45 million that had been promised in 1999 as part of a higher education reform package.
Wilson's proposal would reinstate several tax breaks given to businesses, including a sales tax exemption on films for movie theater owners.
The film tax break was originally intended for "mom-and-pop" movie theaters, Wilson said. But now that most theaters are owned by large corporations, he said, the tax should be reinstated, especially since movie tickets are so expensive.
In addition to the film tax, Wilson's plan would institute a luxury tax, similar to federal law, on purchases of vehicles, furs, jewelry, boats and planes of more than $35,000.
The plan also reinstates the sales tax at 1.25 percent on manufacturing machinery and equipment, farm machinery and equipment, enterprise zone purchases and labor used in original construction.
The plan would also repeal tax breaks on customized computer software and inheritance taxes for certain heirs.
Wilson also criticized Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall, a Republican candidate for governor, who recently said she would cut higher education spending until the state's fiscal situation improves because it was not "life-giving" and other critical state services deserved higher priority.
"With all due respect to General Stovall, I consider giving young people the tools they need to succeed in life to be very 'life-giving,'" Wilson said.
After first declining to respond to Wilson's comment, Scott Holeman, a spokesman for the Stovall campaign, issued a written statement that said, "Carla fully supports higher education and has faith that the Legislature including R.J. Wilson will find a positive solution to the budget dilemma."
Wilson said his plan would restore proposed budget cuts, provide the higher education reform funding and even add a 4.5 percent increase sought by the Kansas Board of Regents.
Regents officials were pleased to hear of the proposal.
"We are heartened that Rep. Wilson appreciates the serious situation on our campuses," said Kim Wilcox, president and chief executive of the Kansas Board of Regents.
He said Wilson's funding goals were consistent with what higher education officials have been advocating throughout the legislative session.