Governor to sign tax increase

1-cent hike touted as means to avoid further budget cuts

? Reaction came swiftly Tuesday to the $314 million sales tax increase approved by the Kansas Legislature as the 2010 session closed.

Gov. Mark Parkinson said he would sign it, and the accompanying budget, into law by the end of the month.

“The bipartisan, balanced budget on its way to my desk reflects the values and priorities of Kansans,” Parkinson said.

“The 1-cent sales tax is a temporary solution which prevents permanent damage to our children’s education, our communities’ public safety and the care we provide to vulnerable citizens,” he added.

His comments came after a dramatic showdown in the House where the tax increase gained final approval on a 64-61 vote around 2 a.m. Tuesday, after the roll call was kept open for more than four hours.

Under the tax bill, the state sales tax will go from 5.3 cents per dollar to 6.3 cents per dollar for three years, starting July 1. Then on July 1, 2013, the tax will decrease to 5.7 percent with revenue from 0.4 of a cent going toward highway construction.

The budget and tax bills were crafted by a coalition of Democrats and some Republicans over the objections of a majority of Republicans, including House leaders, and business interests that opposed a tax increase and wanted more cuts.

Dan Murray, Kansas state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the Legislature “made a big mistake” in approving a tax increase because it will hurt businesses.

“Our members are furious with lawmakers for raising taxes now,” Murray said. “Kansas is still trying to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression. Our members understand that the state is facing a huge budget deficit, but a tax increase is going to make our economy worse, not better.”

But education advocates praised the legislators who pushed the tax bill through.

Rick Doll, Lawrence schools superintendent, said the Legislature’s action regarding the sales tax increase means the school board won’t have to make additional cuts for next school year.

Lawrence board members in March made $4.6 million worth of program and administrative cuts that caused the district to not offer new contracts to more than 30 teachers. Other cuts included moving the East Heights Early Childhood Family Center into Kennedy School, a 2 percent pay cut through four furlough days for administrators plus one furlough day for classified staff members, and Broken Arrow and Wakarusa Valley schools sharing a principal.

“You hate to say they only cut $4.6 million,” Doll said. “But it’s good they didn’t have to go any deeper.”

Doll said that if the state’s revenue picture worsened in coming months, the district could have to make mid-year cuts, but he said administrators were not thinking about that after Tuesday’s news out of Topeka.

Jill Docking, chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Regents, commended legislators who voted to protect higher education funding and approve a tax bill.

“Now is the time for regeneration — the time for the state to invest in its higher education system to lay the foundation for its future economic recovery. To those legislators who were willing to cast such critically important and responsible yes votes, thank you for investing in the future of Kansas,” Docking said.

When Kansas fell into the national recession, state funds dried up. For the first time in modern history, Kansas experienced a decline in tax collections for consecutive years. State officials cut nearly $1 billion as revenue declined and still Kansas faced another $500 million shortfall.

The bipartisan coalition fashioned tax and budget maneuvers to cover that $500 million gap.

Area legislators who voted for the tax bill were Reps. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence; Tony Brown, D-Baldwin City; Paul Davis, D-Lawrence; Ann Mah, D-Topeka; and Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence. Those voting against it were Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, and Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie.

Both the House and Senate adjourned Tuesday afternoon. Legislators will return for a brief ceremonial end of the session May 28.