Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius says a tax increase may be needed to help solve the state's funding problems, but Republicans in control of the Legislature want her to think again.
"It's premature to be talking about a tax increase, particularly given the fragile state of the Kansas economy," said House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka.
Sebelius, a Democrat in her first year as governor, refused to consider a tax increase in this year's legislative session, saying she couldn't justify taking more from Kansans before conducting a top-to-bottom review of state government to ensure revenues were being spent efficiently.
So Sebelius signed a budget put together by the Legislature that stripped revenue sharing to cities and counties and froze education spending at a time costs were going up.
Many have said the budget would lead to increases in local taxes. It also put the state in a deeper financial hole because of one-time uses of revenue and bookkeeping gimmicks that pushed deficits into the next fiscal year.
Just weeks after signing the budget, Sebelius said a tax increase might have to be considered to make the budget work.
The comments surprised many.
"I think she has a tremendous amount of explaining to do," said Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson.
He said the governor's remarks were inconsistent "compared to what she was saying only a few months ago, and her protestations during her campaign a year ago that she would not raise taxes."
Mays said passing a tax increase would be difficult.
"If she were willing and able to rally the Democratic caucus, there might be enough Republicans that a tax increase would pass the House," he said. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the House, 80-45.
"It would require every Democratic vote in the House to vote for it. If she wants it, she will have to work very hard," Mays said.
But House Democratic Leader Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg, said some Democrats would not support a tax increase, even if called upon to do so by the Democratic governor.
"Some Democrats will not be voting for a tax increase," he said.
Like many other lawmakers, McKinney said, his vote on any tax bill would depend on the state's economic condition and an understanding of what would not get funded without an increase in revenue.
McKinney, a farmer and rancher, said that while the solid wheat crop just harvested was good news, in reality it simply helped many farmers pay off debt.
"The bankers were happier than the farmers," he said. "For both political and economic reasons, I'm not running and jumping to support a tax increase, but it comes down to whether we have to do that or senior citizens, retarded kids and schools are going to get hurt. We have to look at it," he said.