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Kansas Lawmakers Could Tackle Taxes and Education Funding, or Wait Until 2017

Photo by Stephen Koranda
Photo by Stephen Koranda

Kansas Lawmakers return to Topeka next week for the start of the 2016 session. KPR’s Stephen Koranda has this look at some of the major issues they’ll either tackle or possibly put off for another year.


Taxes and the budget. Those are the first big issues confronting state lawmakers. Kansas is currently on track to have a small budget shortfall in the current fiscal year. But the deficit could grow to nearly $200 million for the next fiscal year, which begins in July.  Lawmakers fought long and hard to pass a tax increase last session. Both sales and tobacco taxes went up. But Governor Sam Brownback says tinkering with taxes should be off the table this year.


“I do and I don’t think it’s necessary. Last year was the third step in a plan that started in 2012,” says Brownback.


Lawmakers approved a two-year budget last session, but it’s clear they’ll have to modify it. Governor Brownback has offered few details on what he’ll propose. The real information will come out at the State of the State speech Tuesday night. 


Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce says they’re strategies will hang on what the governor proposes.


“It depends on what proposals the governor puts forward, whether or not you start immediately and start working on something for January or whether you wait typically until the April revenue estimates,” says Bruce.


Senator Laura Kelly, the top Democrat on the budget committee, says she doesn’t believe lawmakers will take on taxes after the fight last year. She - and some Republicans - would like to see certain tax cuts rolled back. But Kelly says that's unlikely in an election year.  


“I think there are ways to balance the budget that won’t require taxes. I don’t think they’re good ways, but I think they’ll be ways that will be implemented just so we won’t have to deal with the tax issue,” says Kelly.


Another top issue will be education funding. Lawmakers tossed out the old funding formula for a temporary block grant system. They’ve started laying the groundwork for a new school finance formula, but Kelly believes it won’t get far this year.


“And that again is something people are not going to want to deal with, they’re going to want to put that off. I do think there will be some that will propose some formulas, but I would be very surprised if we actually take that up and debate," says Kelly.


But the Republican chairman of the House Education Committee, Ron Highland, says he'd like to see at least some progress.


“I would like to see a formula at least come forward. Whether it gets finalized or gets approved, that’s up to the Legislature, you know how that works. I think we have the opportunity and we owe it to our school system and everybody else to come up with something now and get it done,” says Highland.


Some lawmakers have said they want to try to keep this legislative session short. Last year's session was contentious and lasted a record-long 114 days.

Stephen Koranda is KPR's Statehouse reporter.