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If Tax Impasse Continues, Governor Could Make Kansas Budget Cuts

Lawmakers confer on the House floor Tuesday. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

The Kansas House and Senate have approved the budget for the coming two fiscal years. However, that plan needs around $400 million in tax increases, or budget cuts, to be balanced. The House and Senate haven’t been able to agree on a tax plan. There has been talk that lawmakers could leave Topeka and force the governor to cut spending to balance the budget. KPR's Stephen Koranda reports.

Over the last few days, there’s been a lot of this in the Kansas Legislature.

(Sound of a House motion to go to recess)

That’s the House taking a break. There’s been little public work done over the last couple days. Behind closed doors there have been meetings and arm twisting.

But what if all that doesn’t work and they can’t come to a tax agreement?  If they leave town, Governor Brownback would have to make allotments, basically budget cuts, to get that budget into shape.

“I think it’s a very bad outcome if the legislative session ends like that.”

That’s Republican Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce. He says they don’t fully know the effects of leaving it to the governor to cut $400 million.

“Especially allotments done in a short notice. It’s going to be very disruptive and it’s going to cause a lot of backlash in the public,” says Bruce.

We do know it would mean around $200 million in cuts to schools and major hits to other state services and corrections.

The Senate has passed a tax plan focusing mainly on sales taxes and eliminating tax deductions. Bruce says they’ve completed their work and the burden is on the House to agree to the Senate’s bill or create their own plan.

“Unless they do that, and they do it within the next few days, the likelihood of allotments becomes pretty high,” says Bruce.

But over in the House, they don’t feel like it’s all on them. Republican House majority leader Jene Vickrey says the Senate’s tax plan isn’t very popular in the House.

“If we cannot pass what they’ve sent, I don’t know that their work is done,” says Vickrey

Vickrey says they’re not ready to cash it in and leave it to the governor to cut the budget.

“We have the number of days it takes, we have to get this done,” say Vickrey.

Some people suspect the talk of leaving town is aimed at pressuring some House lawmakers to get on board with the Senate plan, like Republican Steven Johnson.

Johnson says he’s not sure they could leave town without a balanced budget under the state Constitution, but even the idea of that is motivating.

“As you look at it, you have to say ‘how do you get there?” How do we offer anything that we think is better? I think we still have the chance the say ‘well, here’s the House position, here’s why we think it’s worth considering,'” says Johnson.

This all comes down to divisions. Some legislators want more spending cuts, some want to focus on sales taxes, some, like Johnson, want to look at reverse business income tax cuts from 2012.

Democrats, like Representative Kathy Wolfe Moore, say they’re wasting time with the new plans and they should revamp the 2012 tax cuts.

“It’s time to admit that the bill is not working, you can’t fix it, we need to rescind at least a portion of it,” says Wolfe-Moore.

Lawmakers are entering day 111 of the 2015 session, making it the longest in state history. The question is, how much longer can it go?

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