Topeka The Kansas Senate on Wednesday approved a $14.4 billion state budget for the next fiscal year after adding money for public schools and property tax relief.
The 34-5 vote sends the bill to the House, where a separate spending plan for the fiscal year that starts in July is awaiting debate.
Senators added $45 million a year for four budget years for cities and counties to reduce property taxes. The money restores a revenue-sharing program that began in 1938 but was suspended in 2002 when the state faced financial difficulties.
Senators also amended the budget to add $50 million to increase base state aid for schools, plus $27 million to equalize school aid payments among poorer districts. Language authorizing the increases is in another bill already approved by the Senate but pending in the House.
The chairman of the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee objected to the tax-relief money, saying it interfered with work by other legislators to reach a compromise on a sweeping tax bill that includes changes in income tax rates for individuals and businesses.
Sen. Les Donovan said the amendment would complicate the process as legislators try to reduce taxes without wrecking future state budgets. The Wichita Republican suggested other motives were at play to derail the tax discussions because the property tax provision was already part of the mix.
“I find this not only offensive, I find it a very dangerous policy change,” Donovan said. “It’s too bad we’re doing this in this manner. It shouldn’t happen this way.
“We’re bound and determined we don’t want certain people to get credit for good tax policy.”
Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka Republican who carried the amendment, said her goal was to respond to constituent concerns about property taxes.
The effort would ensure that if the tax negotiators are unable to agree on a bill that cities and counties would still receive funding, said Sen. Laura Kelly.
“We always do this. It is an appropriations bill. It’s just a matter of whether we fund it,” said Kelly, a Topeka Democrat. “We’re not setting tax policy. We’re starting to restore funding. That’s all we’re doing.”
One proposed component of the school-funding plan that was not added to the budget bill would allow school districts to increase the percentage of local property taxes that could be raised to augment state spending. The rate could increase from the present 31 percent to 32 percent in 2012-13 school year and up to 33 percent in the 2013-14 year if approved by school district voters.
The budget also increases funding for residents with physical and developmental disabilities, adding $5 million to reduce waiting lists for services. The Department of Justice has been investigating complaints that the state hasn’t done enough in recent years to reduce waiting lists for services as state revenues have shrunk and budgets reduced.