The House went in yesterday morning and, after reading in the new tax bill (SB 29), broke for the day. Not much you can do when there are 30 asbsences! Their work day was a full seven minutes. They are scheduled to return today at 11:00 am.
The Senate began their debate of Senate Sub for HB 2109, the tax bill crafted by their tax committee.
Beginning at 10:00, the Senate heard a description of the bill by Tax Chair Les Donoovan (R-Wichita) and then immediately took up an amendment by Senator Pyle (R-Hiawatha) to strip out the enactment clause. This action would kill the bill. The enactment clause, which comes at the end of each bill, sets the date upon which the bill would take effect. The amendment failed on a vote of 13 to 25.
They broke for lunch and returned at 2:00.
The first amendment in the afternoon was offered by Senator Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka). The Hensley amendment would reduce the state sales tax to 5.7%, with Hensley stating that this had been the intent of the legislature in 2010 when the rate was raised to offset the revenue lost due to the great recession.
In response, Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) asserted that the reckless cuts from 2012 just “need more time to work” and that the problems facing Kansas are due to President Barack Obama. This is the standard ALEC/Brownback blame gimmick. Wagle explained that the Republican way was to put money in the hands of the people so they can use it. Hensley responded that this is exactly what his amendment would do.
Hensley’s amendment failed on a vote of 16 to 20.
A second amendment by Hensley would take the food sales tax down to 5.7%. The bill lowers it to 5.9% and Hensley’s amendment again would take it to the same rate as it would have been if Brownback had not raised the sales tax in 2012. The amendment passed 27 to 10.
Senator Pat Pettey (D-Kansas City) then offered an amendment that would remove the motor vehicle tax provision from the bill. This provision is especially dear to Sen. Donovan, a car dealer. The concern is that enactment of this provision would cause large losses to local units of government and, of particular concern to some, public libraries that use the motor vehicle property tax. The provision lowers this tax by 40%. The Pettey amendment passed on a vote of 27 to 5.
Senator Hensley next offered an amendment that would restore the percentage of sales tax that would go to the highway fund. As written, the bill would increase motor fuel tax by 5 cents which raises $82 million that can only be spent on highways allowing the legislature to move $82 million from KDOT to the state general fund. The amendment would provide that KDOT could use the full $164 million on road and highway maintenance. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote.
The next amendment came from Senator Michael O’Donnell. It would match the House tax bill language on taxing businesses. It would apply the 2.7% income tax bracket to the businesses that are currently exempt from income taxes. The provision would not, however, be retroactive to the start of 2014 as in the House position.
The O’Donnell amendment angered everyone including Sen. Wagle. Usually each chamber sets its own position and then goes to conference to work out the differences. It is not typical for one chamber to offer the other’s positions in debate. After a long debate, the O’Donnell amendment failed on a vote of 0 to 32.
Next up was an amendment by Senator Marci Francisco (D-Lawrence) that would encourage hiring in Kansas. This was considered a friendly amendment and adopted on a voice vote.
The last amendment came from Senator Steve Abrams (R-Arkansas City). Abrams’ amendment changed the increase in the cigarette tax from $0.50/pack to $0.18/pack and earmarked the revenue for cancer research at the University of Kansas. This amendment was adopted on a voice vote.
At that point the handwriting was on the wall. The bill had been amended to reduce its impact on the budget gap and it was voted down 1 to 30 with only Tax Committee Chairman Les Donovan voting for it.
Senator Pyle then made a motion to reconsider the bill. That motion failed. As a result the bill stays on the calendar and is available for use as a tax proposal vehicle later.
So what about today?
Both chambers convene this morning; the House at 11:00, the Senate at 10:00. Neither chamber has any bills on the debate calendar – there will be no general orders. The House plans to vote on at least two conference committee reports. One of those is HB 2353 which contains clean-up provisions for B 7, the school finance block grant bill, and modifications to the professional negotiations act modeled on the consensus agreement among KNEA, KASB, KSSA, and USA/KS.
Friday is likely to be pro-forma day; check in and go home. It looks like the Legislature will be back for yet another week of overtime!