Topeka The Kansas Senate on Wednesday approved a $13.6 billion state budget that protects education funding and social services but requires $350 million in tax increases.
The vote was 23-17. During a daylong debate, senators rejected proposals that would have pushed the chamber toward balancing the budget without increasing taxes.
Senate leaders planned to have their chamber debate a tax package today. Most of the new revenues it would raise would come from increasing the state’s sales tax from 5.3 percent to 6.3 percent.
Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson and some members of the Republican-controlled Legislature contend it would be irresponsible to balance the budget without raising taxes, arguing that schools and programs would suffer serious damage.
“If we can’t get taxes passed, the only place we can get that kind of money is education, and I don’t think the governor will stand for that,” said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican.
But conservative Republicans repeated concerns that passing a budget that requires tax increases will hurt Kansas businesses and families struggling to recover from the recession.
“How do you spell irresponsible? Kansas Senate,” said Sen. Karin Brownlee, an Olathe Republican.
House GOP leaders pursued a no-tax strategy, only to see their chamber reject a proposed budget Tuesday night. The House planned to debate a bipartisan proposal Thursday that would require higher taxes to cover a projected shortfall at the end of 2011 of nearly $300 million.
It is possible that if the House approves a budget that negotiators from the two chambers could begin work on a final spending plan late today or Friday. Legislators began their wrap-up session April 28.
During their debate, senators twice voted 28-12 against proposals to cut state aid to public schools by more than $60 million.
The second time, the cut in education funding was included in a larger plan offered by Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, as a way to balance the budget while avoiding a tax increase.
A key part of Masterson’s proposal would have required the state to raise $175 million during the next fiscal year by selling land, buildings and other state property. The idea of selling state assets has been pushed by the Kansas chapter of the anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity.
“There are several who are interested in raising taxes to close the hole,” Masterson said of his fellow senators. “I am not.”
Many senators were skeptical that the state could raise so much money or sell assets quickly in a down economy. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, noted that it took the state a decade to sell the grounds of the former Topeka State Hospital for the mentally ill — and the buyer was the local school district.
The resulting budget drew criticism from conservatives, who believe it’s based on revenue projections that are too optimistic.
Sen. Dick Kelsey, a Goddard Republican, noted that it assumes the state receives additional federal health care dollars. Also, it assumes a yet-to-be identified developer of a state-owned casino south of Wichita will pay a $25 million licensing fee — when a deal collapsed last month.
“If we’re going to be people of faith, maybe we ought to add another line, ‘God will provide,”’ he said.