Kansas Riddle Asks How To Add Money For Schools Without Raising Taxes
A Kansas Supreme Court ruling saying the state must spend more on schools could require lawmakers to find hundreds of millions of dollars. With some lawmakers saying a tax hike for education remains off the table, that financial hunt won’t be easy.
Legislators rolled back Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature income tax cuts just last year. It was a monumental task, which ultimately required lawmakers to override a veto from the governor. The fight stretched the session to a tie with the longest in state history.
Republican Senate President Susan Wagle, a conservative, never supported increasing taxes last year. She said after that bruising fight, a tax increase would not pass this year.
“Clearly, the budget is still tight,” Wagle said. “Taxpayers aren’t in the mood for another tax increase.”
Lawmakers could consider cuts to other state services if they need more money for schools, Wagle said.
Centrist Republicans such as Rep. Russ Jennings, who voted for the tax override last year, also are skeptical a tax hike could pass.
“I think It’s pretty unlikely,” Jennings said.
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley agrees a tax hike would be difficult, but he doesn’t want lawmakers to rule it out.
“I’ve never been one to draw a line in the sand,” Hensley said. “I’ve always felt like you have to keep your options on the table.”
Tax collections have been beating estimates recently. Hensley and Jennings believe that trend will continue and ease the financial pressure.
“If I’m right,” Hensley said, “then we very well may be able to fund schools without a tax increase.”
Jennings said if the money materializes, it could be used for a multi-year funding boost.
“The court has bought that in the past,” he said. “I have no reason to think they won’t buy that approach again.”
Lawmakers will receive updated tax collection estimates in a few months, which will let them know if they’ll have additional money available to help solve the fiscal puzzle.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.