On May 27, the Kansas legislature officially adjourned without passing a tax hike. A budget is in place for the coming fiscal year, though many questions remain concerning the future of the state’s tax and spending plans.
“The Legislature ended the session deadlocked on whether to raise taxes for schools,” reported the Lawrence-Journal World on May 28. “Now legislators–many of whom face re-election this fall–await a Kansas Supreme Court decision on a lower court ruling that said the state’s school finance system was unconstitutional because it underfunded and shortchanged minority students.”
Praise from Taxpayer Advocates
The Kansas state legislature deserves “praise, not blame, for defeating a punitive new tax hike package that would have fueled more wasteful state spending,” said John Berthoud, president of the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU).
“Taxpayers refused to suffer in silence for Topeka’s excessive spending,” said Berthoud. “The Governor and the Legislature should remember this message.”
“This battle is over and the taxpayers won. Sadly, despite this victory, the war continues,” noted Karl Peterjohn, president of the Kansas Taxpayers Network, in a recent email message to supporters.
“After repeated school finance bills passed one house or the other, but not both, 165 legislators finally and rather quietly passed their omnibus appropriations bill and went home,” continued Peterjohn.
School Funding Issue Remains
School funding legislation did not pass and remains an issue in Kansas. According to Peterjohn, the key session vote against raising taxes took place on May 14, when the state senate rejected by an 18 to 21 vote a proposal that would have hiked sales, income, and property taxes.
“This was the most votes the pro-tax senators could gather for a plan that raised state taxes roughly $129 million and millions more in local property taxes,” he said. “There were 10 RINOs (Republicans in name only) who voted for this tax hike proposal and eight Democrats.”
Also on May 14, legislators considered a proposal that would have raised $82 million for elementary and secondary education by borrowing transportation funds. Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D) “labeled the idea the height of irresponsibility,” according to television news reports. The senate nevertheless approved the measure by a 26-10 vote. The house rejected it 75-41. “We just ran out of ideas,” said House Speaker Doug Mays (R-Topeka).
Sebelius denounced the legislature for not passing a tax hike, issuing a statement saying legislators “couldn’t summon the courage to meet the challenge.” She raised the specter of a special session later this year.
“I believe there is at least a 90 percent chance of a 2004 special session being called by Sebelius,” said Peterjohn. “That is why I referred to winning a battle and not the 2004 fiscal war. There may even be some election fall-out [from taxpayers].”
John Skorburg is managing editor of Budget & Tax News. His email address is [email protected].