Talk of tax hikes and school funding dominated a legislative update session in Salina Saturday morning.
Senator Tom Arpke, and Representatives Diana Dierks and Steven Johnson were back to answer questions. Representative J.R. Claeys was unable to attend due to a prior commitment.
All agreed that there is no end in sight for the current legislative session, which after dismissing Friday for the weekend is no officially in overtime. Friday was the 90th day of the session, which is scheduled to last a maximum of 90 days each year. Last year’s session lasted 78 days.
Arpke said that he is frustrated with legislators not getting their jobs done in the allotted 90 days.
Questions from the public centered on taxes, and education.
Legislators dismissed Friday after overwhelmingly voting down a tax-hike proposal. A balanced budget is required by the Kansas Constitution, and there is a shortfall of over $400 million that must be dealt with.
Legislators cannot agree on what taxes to raise to compensate for the shortfall.
Johnson said that there is no easy answer. But the general consensus that has been conveyed to him is that most people, including business owners, would favor at least a partial rollback of tax cuts that businesses and farms received a couple of years ago. Arpke said, though, that he is confident that if those tax cuts were rolled back, Governor Sam Brownback would veto it. “There are not enough votes to override that veto,” Arpke added.
Johnson said “the reality is that no tax increase idea will pass on the 1st, 2nd, or possibly even third try.”
Arpke also expressed a concern about the number of tax exemptions that exist in Kansas, and the legislatures unwillingness to re-examine them.
USD 305 Superintended Bill Hall voiced concerns that there was a plan to take more money away from the new block grants that are being used to fund education. Arpke indicated that there are no plans in the legislature at this point to do that. But he cautioned that if Governor Brownback ends up needing to use allocations to help fund some things, school funding might be in peril.
Hall also asked about the possibility of the legislature being called back in June for a special session if the block grant school funding, which is currently the source of a lawsuit, is thrown out. All three legislators conceded that this is a possibility, with Johnson adding “I’d rather be cutting wheat.”
The legislative update session, hosted by the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by AT&T, was the third of three scheduled.