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March 18, 2010
TOPEKA After several days of hearings on various tax proposals, the Senate tax committee on Thursday spurned all of them, rejecting plans to increase levies on cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, soda pop and other sweetened drinks.
Also shot down was the governor's call for a 1 cent increase in the general sales tax.
It now most likely falls on the Senate Ways & Means Committee to get a tax bill approved for debate by the full Senate where leaders have said about $300 million in new revenues are needed to avoid harmful cuts to schools, social services and public safety programs.
The Ways & Means Committee has been considering Senate Bill 476, which would generate about $168 million, mostly through eliminating the state tax exemption on sales of residential utilities such as heating fuels and electricity.
Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said he didn't plan to vote for any of the tax increases, but pleaded with fellow tax committee members to vote out at least one proposal "without favorable recommendation" to allow for the "inevitable" tax debate he said would happen on the Senate floor before the session ends.
But as the committee went about the work of reducing, shifting and reassembling the various bills, Chairman Les Donovan, R-Wichita, struggled to get members to offer motions on anything. And when he did get a motion he often couldn't get anyone to second it.
"Am I still in the Senate?" Donovan quipped at one point. "I thought I moved from the House a long time ago."
House GOP leaders have insisted on no new taxes and on Thursday released their budget plan which instead relies on millions of dollars in spending reductions for schools and highways, among other things.
Donovan is the only one of nine members on the Senate tax committee not from a district or county bordering Missouri or Oklahoma.
Merchants in the border counties have been particularly forceful complaining about possible tax increases on cigarettes, soft drinks, and alcohol, saying Kansans will simply drive across the state line to do their shopping. That heat from back home made it politically touchy for any of the senators to raise a hand when Donovan called for motions.
Schmidt also is running for Attorney General and the ranking Democrat, Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City, is running for governor.
When the committee got to the governor's sales tax proposal after letting the other tax plans die, Sen. Jeff Colyer, R-Overland Park, offered to second the motion to pass it out of committee, if Holland would but offer the motion.
"We haven't been getting anywhere," Colyer said. "If the ranking minority will move the governor's bill, I will second it."
"I'm not prepared to move on that motion," he said. "Thank you."
The political touchiness of the bills was also illustrated when Schmidt offered a motion to move out a bill that would not have raised any taxes. In fact, it would have reimbursed small retailers for some of the costs they incur collecting and remitting state sales taxes.
Schmidt couldn't get a second to move that bill after members discussed the possibility it could be amended to include tax increases, if it got to the Senate floor.