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Kansas Senate delaying tax bill debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Debate on Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal to further cut income taxes will be delayed a few weeks so lawmakers can clear other legislation by a key deadline.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce said the income tax bill would probably be debated during the week of March 11 because of a backlog of other issues. The backlog happened after two snow storms prompted legislators to adjust their schedules, including missing one full day and starting late on another.

"The weather's postponing everything," said Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican.

Legislators must clear most bills that started in their chamber by this weekend. However, there are some committees that are exempt, including budget and tax. Legislators are scheduled to be off March 4 and 5, so significant issues are being pushed to the following week, Bruce said.

"What I'd really like to see is one tax day in the Senate," he said. "We may get more bang for our buck if we put it off."

Brownback wants to phase in a second round of cuts in individual income tax rates over the next four years. His plan also would trigger further rate reductions in the future if economic growth is robust.

To offset those cuts, Brownback wants to eliminate income tax deductions for the property taxes Kansans' pay on their homes and the interest on their home mortgages. Also, he would keep the sales tax at 6.3 percent, rather than letting it drop to 5.7 percent in July, as promised under legislation three years ago.

The Senate committee's version preserves the deduction for property taxes but scraps the mortgage interest and sales tax breaks. The bill would net the state $918 million in new revenues over the next three years, before taxpayers saw most of the benefit from cutting individual income tax rates further.

The Kansas Department of Revenue contends that the increases are still offset for taxpayers through the reductions in overall income tax rates over the next several years.

Bruce said he expects to see proposals to amend the bill to restore the elimination of deductions Brownback is seeking, but he didn't know specifics or wager a guess on their likelihood of passing.

"I want to give (senators) some options and keep the governor's tax bill as clean as possible," Bruce said.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said the delay in the debate suggested to him that Republicans were "trying to get their act together" and reflects a division among the 32 members of the GOP caucus over the impact of the bill.

"I think there's going to be an amendment to phase out the deductions as the income rates decline," said Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.

Hensley said the income tax cuts would result in a shift in the tax burden to property and sales taxes, hurting the poor and middle class in the process. He said Democrats would vote against keeping the sales tax increase in place.

"That will force a lot of those who voted for the sales tax increase to renege on the promise to make it temporary," Hensley said. "I won't be responsible for that."