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SPOTLIGHT
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Kan. legislators move forward on budget, taxes

Published on -5/22/2013, 6:39 AM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas lawmakers agreed Tuesday to a compromise plan on the state's proposed $14.5 billion budget, potentially setting up a key test vote if negotiators reach a deal on taxes.

The budget deal strikes a compromise on higher education spending, making a 1.5 percent cut in 2014 and again in 2015 at state universities, community colleges and technical schools.

It also would require Kansas residents receiving health care services for developmental disabilities to become part of the state's new KanCare health system that began operating in January. Advocates for the disabled have sought to keep the developmentally disabled and long-term services separate from the system.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades expressed optimism that the budget bill would pass. However, he said the House only would consider it if there is a deal on taxes, which could come Wednesday..

"As I told our caucus, (the budget) only gets smaller. And that's not an idle threat," said Rhoades, a Newton Republican.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ty Masterson was uncertain said he still had reservations about some of the House spending positions but was optimistic.

"I'm glad to see we're off dead center. Nobody in this building knows what will pass the House," said Masterson, an Andover Republican. "We have to have a litmus test."

Tax negotiators met twice Tuesday to review offers from the Senate to lower the state's sales tax rate from 6.3 percent to 6.25 percent and making to changes to tax code regarding deductions. GOP leaders have been at odds over what to do with the sales tax rate, which is scheduled to drop from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent in July.

More talks were scheduled Wednesday morning with the House offering a counter to the Senate proposal.

The progress comes on the heels of a joint meeting of House and Senate freshmen Republicans in effort to jumpstart progress in the session. Legislators returned to the Statehouse with hopes of making quick work of budget and taxes but have been at impasse for much of the time.

"I think we're getting bits and pieces of information in between our chambers and that leads us to different conclusions," said Sen. Jeff Melcher, a Leawood Republican.

The meeting was organized by Melcher and Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady, a Palco Republican, who said the goal was to lay out all tax proposals and hear suggestions from the freshmen.

The biggest budget disagreement had been whether to cut higher education by 4 percent in 2014, as the House sought, or 2 percent in 2014 and 2015 as senators proposed. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback wants no cuts.

The governor said following an unrelated event in the Statehouse that he was hopeful cuts to colleges and universities could be avoided. He toured the state in April and early May to build support for keeping higher education funding stable during the next budget year.

The biggest conflict on taxes is about Brownback's plan to stabilize the budget by canceling a scheduled decrease in the sales tax. The Senate has approved the measure, and the House wants the tax to decrease. Brownback denied giving legislators an ultimatum on what he would sign or reject if sent to his desk.

"I've never told anybody I would veto anything at this point in time," the governor said. "That's not the way I operate. I meet with people and we talk and try to hash things (out)."

Brownback proposes keeping the sales tax rate at 6.3 percent instead of declining to 5.7 percent as required by law in July. The Senate has endorsed that move but the House has countered with a proposal to drop the rate to 6 percent. Both chambers are proposing plans that would further reduce the Kansas income tax rates, building on cuts enacted in 2012.

"I'm not going to negotiate in public. These guys need to negotiate, and they're doing that -- and it's good," the governor said.

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Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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