TOPEKA — Members of a House panel showed little appetite Wednesday for tacking taxes onto a school finance bill, meaning revenue remains uncertain for a multi-year increase in state aid to schools that could total hundreds of millions of dollars.
Democrats and Republicans alike expressed skepticism, and the meeting closed without a vote on the matter.
Speaking afterward, Rep. Larry Campbell, R-Olathe, chairman of the school finance committee, didn’t rule out further discussion on the idea.
“I certainly didn’t hear a consensus driving it forward,” he said. “If there’s a motion to do something, we’ll listen. But I kind of doubt it.”
Campbell had presented his committee with a sheet of paper detailing a buffet of revenue possibilities — from hiking property taxes to higher taxes on liquor, tobacco or fuel — and estimates of what each option would raise.
He also had invited the chairman of the tax committee to answer questions. When Campbell asked Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Assaria, whether the tax committee would be opposed to the school finance panel inserting taxes into the education bill, Johnson replied by speaking for himself, saying he wouldn’t see it as a problem.
“You’d be making my job easier,” he said. “I’d be thrilled to delegate any portion to you.”
The tax committee has wrestled throughout the session with producing legislation to close a projected deficit of $900 million for fiscal 2018 and 2019. That figure excludes extra funds required for public schools.
Efforts to reach a deal on the tax bill continued this week, but have proceeded slowly because legislative leaders believe they will need a veto-proof two-thirds majority to support it. That is because Gov. Sam Brownback killed a tax bill earlier in the session. The House had enough “yes” votes to override Brownback’s veto, but the Senate didn’t.
Members of the House school finance panel expressed concern about folding tax policy into their school finance formula, with some noting they don’t serve on the tax committee and don’t have as much information about the topic.
“Our job is to come up with a formula, know what that formula is going to cost,” said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita.
Rep. Fred Patton, R-Topeka, agreed.
“I think if we’re going to do that,” he said, “we need to have the opportunity to at least have some sort of hearing.”
Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, called revenue provisions the purview of the tax committee. He also warned against tying school finance and taxes into a single vote that prevents lawmakers from voting according to their actual stance on each.
“I don’t want to be in a position to say, well, I have a choice — either I have to vote for a tax policy I really don’t care for, or I have to vote against an educational funding bill,” Trimmer said. “I’d rather have an educational funding bill I can vote on cleanly and then look at what the tax committee does.”
The Legislature is under pressure to pass a new school finance formula this session in part because of a March ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court that found current K-12 funding unconstitutional. The school finance bill currently under consideration would increase state aid to schools by approximately $150 million next year. Annual funding would keep climbing by $150 million per year for four years after that.