Archive for Saturday, May 8, 2004

Two more school finance plans rejected

May 8, 2004

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— Kansas lawmakers on Friday rejected two more school finance plans amid mounting frustration and an approaching deadline.

With two days remaining in the session, the House trashed a $94.2 million plan that would have increased the state sales tax, dipped into cash reserves and allowed five property-wealthy districts, including Lawrence, to increase local property taxes to offset higher housing costs.

The measure was defeated 101-15.

Earlier, the Senate rejected, 21-18, a $109 million increase that would have raised state sales and income taxes, and some local property taxes, including the Lawrence district.

As lawmakers shuttled back-and-forth to discuss new proposals, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, said she believed a compromise could be reached.

"I remain hopeful that the Legislature will indeed do the responsible thing, do the job they were sent here by voters to do, and make sure that we don't look at drastic cuts in school districts across the state of Kansas," Sebelius said.

Sebelius, fellow Democrats and moderate Republicans have supported tax increases for schools.

But getting a majority in the House and Senate to approve a mixture of tax increases, funding targets and other school issues, has proved elusive all year.

Lawmakers said they may stay in session into the night and morning to reach a compromise.

"I'd like to get out of here tonight, no matter how late we go," House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said.

Mays said legislators need to keep working to find a plan that will win a majority in each chamber. "Every time we vote, we eliminate some options," he said.

The House plan would have increased the state sales tax from 5.3 cents per dollar to 5.5 cents per dollar, and taken $25 million from the state's cash reserves.

But several Democrats and moderate Republicans said the raid on the cash reserve would have jeopardized the state's bond rating.

In the Senate, the proposal before lawmakers would have increased the state sales tax from 5.3 cents per dollar to 5.45 cents per dollar, and added a 2.5 percent surcharge on individual state income tax. It also would have allowed school districts that are assessing the maximum of local school property taxes, such as Lawrence, to have increased that amount.

Under the plan, a family of four earning $40,000 per year, would have seen a $73 increase in statewide taxes for the year, or about $6 per month, according to state Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood.

"That's what this will cost to provide our school districts with enough resources to prevent personnel cuts, elimination of programs, elimination of services. Most families throw away more than $6 per month," Vratil said.

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