Topeka House members again demonstrated their distaste for raising taxes Wednesday, rejecting repeated efforts to increase the state sales tax and repeal nearly $3 billion in exemptions.
The debate was the latest exercise in the House to gauge members' support for various ways of closing a projected budget gap of more than $679 million over the next 15 months.
Earlier in the week, the House voted down proposed increases in the state's income tax, estate tax and property tax for public schools. Taxes on alcohol, beer and tobacco products were on Thursday's agenda.
Rep. Bonnie Sharp on Wednesday offered the biggest revenue-generating measure yet suggested repealing most of the exemptions from the state's 4.9 percent sales tax to bring in nearly $3 billion.
Sharp, D-Kansas City, Kan., said the economy has changed and that the state has grown increasingly reliant on retail sales and services, which is not reflected by a taxing system that depends on income and property taxes.
"We're taxing under a model that's not working," Sharp said.
Her amendment was defeated 100-22. The bill to which it would have been attached a sales tax exemption for hearing aids was rejected later in the day, 64-41.
Sharp said repealing all exemptions in a single amendment was ambitious, but that it points to the need for legislators to rethink all exemptions and become serious about tax policy.
"I'm offering you some lettuce, some green stuff," Sharp said. The weeklong tax debate has been dubbed "build-your-own salad week."
Opponents were not amused.
House Taxation Chairman John Edmonds, R-Great Bend,labeled Sharp's amendment a "$3 billion tax increase" and said there was much to dislike in its 76 provisions.
Rep. Bob Tomlinson, R-Roeland Park, offered three amendments to increase the sales tax to as much as 5.5 percent, with all the revenue dedicated to education. Under one of the amendments, the higher rate would have expired after three years.
Edmonds said he did not believe in the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus nor in the Legislature's ability to roll back the tax rate after the revenue it produced was built into school budgets.
The amendment was defeated 80-34.
Tomlinson, a teacher in Johnson County, said he agreed with Sharp that the chamber must get serious about solving the budget crisis and stop expecting spending cuts to be the only solution.
"It's time we start making some of these choices," he said.
The sales tax bill is HB 2265.