WICHITA, Kansas – Kansas lawmakers have made some moves to fill a budget gap this year, but there are still questions about next year’s budget that begins in July.
Right now, Kansas is in a budget hole of as much as $648 million. Both Repbulicans and Democrats are introducing ideas to increase taxes to make up for that hold. This week marks the halfway point for the legislative session.
“And that’s the chaos. It’s like people running around a room trying to find a light switch,” says Jim Ward of Wichita.
Ward is a Democrat. He points out the Republicans do not yet have a plan to fix the Kansas budget and find about $600 million. Ward also says it may just be time to do away with the tax breaks that were handed out in 2012.
“Over 300,000 Kansans are no longer paying state income tax due to a loophole and that’s a massive drain on our revenue,” says Ward. “And until you address that problem, you are going to see these outlier, extreme ideas of raising taxes on middle class and working families.”
Republicans say, not so fast.
“There’s not a deficit because of tax cuts or spending. But, it’s both, you know,” says Ty Masterson, Republican Senator from Andover. “Bending the growth curve of government down is painful to some so there’s some emotion in it, but the truth is we can’t leave town without a balanced budget. So, I don’t know what they’d (some Democrats) be referring to as chaos, but we can’t print money. We have to have a solution, and we will by the time we gavel out.”
Asked if the lawmaking session would go beyond the slated 90 days, Masterson said, maybe. Ward says, definitely.
“Removing the sales tax exemption from utilities, raising taxes on utility payers by $183 million. Removing the sales tax exemption on farm equipment. Raising taxes on farmers $73 million. A lot of ideas floating out here,” says Ward. “These are not typically ideas that have much traction, but they really don’t know how to close that massive budget debt.”
Michael O’Donnell, a Republican Senator from Wichita, says it will get done. He says a plan is being formulated.
“Well, I think that the Kansas public knows that we do have a budget deficit this year that is going to have to be addressed. The legislature is looking at everything from spending to our tax policy to ending balances.”