Archive for Thursday, May 16, 2002

House rejects $252 million tax plan

May 16, 2002


— Legislative leaders came close to getting a $252 million tax-increase package passed but were rejected in a marathon House vote that ended early this morning.

The House voted 66-58 against a plan that would raise sales, tobacco excise and alcohol excise taxes, after the Senate rejected, 21-17, a separate bill to increase wholesale, per-gallon taxes on beer, wine and liquor by $5.5 million.

A vote on the sales tax bill started at 9:20 p.m., and several representatives requested a "call" of the House, which keeps the roll open until all members are accounted for and vote. By midnight, the vote stood at 61 members in favor, 62 against; a half an hour later, when it became clear defeat was inevitable, the final tally stood at 58-66.

Some conservative House Republicans resisted voting yes until late Wednesday night, including Rep. Tony Powell, R-Wichita. But Powell switched back to no when it became clear the measure would fail.

"I think it's time to get this circus over with, frankly," Powell said. "I'm not happy."

He added: "At some point, you've got to end it. You've got to shoot the horse."

Legislative leaders backed off their plans to call an end to the session. The House will reconvene at 10 a.m. today to discuss funding for the state transportation program and congressional redistricting.

It was not clear whether the House would take another stab at raising enough revenue to fund the state budget.

"I don't know at this point," House Speaker Kent Glasscock, R-Manhattan, said after the stinging defeat this morning. "At this point I'd have to see some movement" from representatives changing their minds on raising taxes.

"This is the 105th day of the legislative session. It is time to govern," Glasscock said as he pleaded with the House to approve the increase.

But Democrats dismissed the tax package, saying it would hurt low- and middle-income Kansans. And they objected to the numerous business tax breaks in the package.

"The majority party seems hellbent on increasing taxes on those who can least afford it," Rep. Rocky Nichols, D-Topeka, said.

The tax proposal would increase the state sales tax from 4.9 cents per dollar to 5.3 cents per dollar, the cigarette tax from 24 cents per pack to 89 cents per pack, and reimpose the inheritance tax on distant relatives and unrelated heirs.

Lawmakers have been deadlocked over spending and taxes for 105 days. They have passed a $4.4 billion budget but not sufficient revenue to support it.

Gov. Bill Graves has said without a tax increase from the Legislature he would be forced to cut state spending by $300 million  a cut that state officials said would devastate public schools, higher education and social services.

Social services face cuts

On Wednesday, social service officials said Graves' cuts would stop Meals on Wheels to 3,900 senior citizens, cut in-home services to hundreds more and reduce other services to the disabled and poor. It would also double premiums for HealthWave, the health-care insurance program for low-income Kansans.

The cuts would reduce funding to the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services by $21 million in state funds and $16 million in federal funds, officials said.

Meanwhile, Democrats who have voted against the tax plan said lawmakers should not give up trying to balance the budget.

Rep. Bruce Larkin, D-Baileyville, and Nichols said a proposal should be hammered out between conservative and moderate Republicans and Democrats.

"When I harvest a crop, I harvest until I'm done," Larkin said.

Late-session proposal

The two lawmakers unveiled a $300 million package that would increase income taxes on wealthy Kansans, allow casino-style gambling at pari-mutuel racetracks and provide a $30 per pupil increase to base state school aid. The measure also would include the state sales tax increase and a 25-cent per pack increase in the cigarette tax.

Larkin said the proposal was a compromise between Republican and Democratic tax initiatives.

But Glasscock said the proposal had no chance of passing, and he criticized the Democrats, saying, "It's the 105th day of the legislative session, and I get a press release."

Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, called the Democratic proposal late, irresponsible and unrealistic because it contained proposals that hadn't been approved by either chamber.

"This is a superficial attempt to save face," he said.

Democrats countered that Republicans have long known that these are the kinds of proposals they wanted included in a tax package.

Lawmakers also are at odds about congressional redistricting. The House has approved a proposal that would split Lawrence between the 2nd and 3rd districts.

While the Lawrence split has also been pushed by many Republicans in the Senate, the GOP is divided over the question of whether to split Junction City from Fort Riley. That issue resulted in sending the redistricting map back to a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators.

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