After a fairly short debate Wednesday morning, the Senate approved (39-1) a state budget for fiscal years 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.
The budget bill fully restored funding to the Children’s Initiative Fund (CIF) at $56 million. The governor had proposed cutting $16 million from CIF, which would have hurt a number of early childhood programs, including Smart Start Kansas, Parents as Teachers, Early Head Start, and newborn screenings. These programs are critical to strong childhood development and help prepare children for school, especially at-risk children in under-served areas.
The budget also appropriates $700,000 for the Creative Industries Council, should it be created within the Department of Commerce (as outlined in HB2766 and SB440).
Funding was also increased for state mental health programs, and for our VFW’s and American Legions.
As amended, this budget adequately funds essential state services while leaving a healthy enough balance to fund other priorities such education and property tax relief.
In a rare turn of events Wednesday, the Senate reconsidered and approved a tax bill it had earlier voted down.
Senators spent more than two hours Tuesday afternoon debating the governor’s tax plan, which would implement a number of major changes to our tax system. Most notably, the bill would have collapsed the state’s current three-bracket individual income tax structure (currently 3.5%, 6.25% and 6.45%) into a two-bracket system (3% and 4.9%).
To pay for these new tax brackets, which would benefit big business and the state’s wealthiest residents, the governor’s plan would have made permanent a 1 cent sales tax that was set to expire this summer.
The bill also would have repealed most itemized deductions available under current law, including deductions for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions. And would have totally exempted certain non-wage business income, which under current law is subject to individual income taxes.
During debate, Senators were able to change some of these provisions. Senators passed an amendment which keeps our promise to the people of Kansas by sunsetting the 1 cent sales tax. Another approved amendment preserved virtually all state income tax credits and deductions, which will provide an estimated $451 million in income tax relief to more than 300,000 Kansas tax filers next year. And Senators voted to increase the standard deduction for couples filing jointly to $9,000.
Although I believe these amendments helped create a better tax bill, I could not in good conscience vote for a tax plan that came with an $800 million price tag. Such a bill would make it impossible to adequately fund other essential programs, including public education and property tax relief for middle-class homeowners and seniors living on fixed incomes.
A majority of senators agreed, with the bill failing on a 20-20 vote.
Just hours later, however, a motion was made to reconsider the bill. On that motion, nine senators changed their vote giving the bill a majority 29-11 vote.
I was disappointed to see a procedural motion used to override the initial will of the body. While it’s important that we have rules in place that allow a bill to be reconsidered, I hate to see such rules used for partisan maneuvering, as they were this week.
Senators also spent more than an hour this Tuesday debating a proposal introduced by Kansas Democrats last December, which will reduce local property taxes for thousands of small businesses, working families, and Kansans living on fixed incomes. Once enacted, this plan will transfer $45 million from excess state revenues to cities and counties during each of the next four fiscal years, for a total investment of $180 million. Directed to the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund, the transfer will reduce local property taxes that unequally burden middle-class families.
I voted in favor of this bill. If we want to create a tax system that is fiscally fair and responsible, lowering local property taxes should be our first goal. The bill passed 38-2 on final action.