Budget still brewing at session’s final coffee

Lawmakers and Franklin County residents are on the same page when it comes to taxes, Caryn Tyson said.

But that doesn’t mean their views mesh completely with those of Gov. Sam Brownback.

The first-term state senator joined other local legislators Saturday for the final Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Coffee of the 2013 session. Tyson, along with freshmen state Reps. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, and Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, took the opportunity to reflect on the Legislature’s work so far.

A key topic at the state capitol, she said, has been Kansas’ budget, which must be finalized before the session concludes.

“Like you’ve heard me say before, I support lower taxes, but we need to get there in a smart manner,” Tyson said. “The Senate put out a tax bill that I’m proud to say — I heard from many of you [in the audience] and I was on the same page — we did not need the mortgage interest deduction removed from that bill so the Senate removed a portion of that and held it harmless.”

To preserve the mortgage deduction, Tyson said, the Senate took a percentage across all deductions but removed the property tax and charitable deductions. The measure was then sent to the House, she said, where the body must agree on its components before the governor can sign it into law.

Asked for his thoughts on the prospective budget, Finch said the House’s plan has modified the tax plans previously proposed by Brownback. The changes, he said, should provide a more gradual and calculated transition to achieve the cuts.

“In the House plan — instead of agreeing with the governor’s recommendations to cut rates on a set schedule — says whenever the growth of state revenues exceed 2 percent there will be a corresponding cut in the tax rates on income tax,” Finch said. “So as the state grows, if this theory holds and we actually do end up seeing growth because of tax cuts, when the growth occurs we’ll cut tax rates further in a slower, more measured fashion.”

To illustrate the House’s plan, Finch said if the state were to experience a 2-percent growth in Kansas’ revenues — or roughly $60 million by 2015 — residents would see an income tax cut of about $20 million.

The biggest difference in the House’s plan, Finch added, was how the state would address Brownback’s plan to maintain a six-tenths-cent sales tax increase that is set to expire.

“The governor has asked that it remain. The Senate has agreed with that and House position has been ‘No, we’re not going to keep the six-tenths.’ They want to let it sunset,” Finch said. “That’s probably the biggest sticky widget that we’ve got to work out between the two houses in conference committees — what’s going to happen with that six-tenths of a cent. It’s worth about $265 million dollars, so it’s not small potatoes.”

The final coffee event of the session wasn’t all about taxes.

Asked about his stance on a house bill that would repeal the availability of in-state tuition for undocumented aliens, Jones said he’s in support of the measure.

“It’s a bigger issue that it looks like,” Jones said. “When I look at the whole thing, it comes down to what happens in campaign season when people are called whether undocumented or illegal and I tend back up my law enforcement people. When they are given a law and they are supposed to uphold it, this is such a difficult thing to call someone illegal and yet is it or isn’t it? And that’s really what we have to tackle as a state. ... I don’t think that if you call them illegal that they should get in-state tuition. But at the same time it’s a lot bigger than just that.”

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