Republicans in the Kansas Legislature hoped Wednesday to see some movement toward an agreement on tax issues as House and Senate negotiators prepared to restart their public talks on cutting income taxes.
Three senators and three House members appointed by legislative leaders to draft compromise tax legislation hadn't met for more than a month. Instead, Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ray Merrick were having private talks with Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
Brownback said Wednesday that he still expects a deal on proposals to cut income taxes while potentially canceling part or all of a scheduled decrease in the sales tax. Wagle and Merrick had acknowledged an impasse Tuesday in their talks, but the governor said such a stalemate on a major issue is "normal" as lawmakers near the end of their annual session.
The governor and most members of the GOP-dominated Legislature want to follow up on massive personal income tax cuts enacted last year with additional reductions in rates, arguing it will further stimulate the economy. But the state also must stabilize its budget over the next few years, and Brownback proposed canceling the sales tax decrease, set by law for July.
"You've got to come to a final conclusion, and it's tough," Brownback told The Associated Press before a public appearance at a Topeka high school. "This is normal. This is what happens this time of year."
The Senate has approved Brownback's proposals to phase in additional cuts in personal income tax rates over the next four years while keeping the sales tax at its current 6.3 percent rate. The House passed legislation to allow the sales tax to drop to 5.7 percent as planned and to cut income taxes less aggressively.
Asked about the resumption of lawmakers' public talks on tax issues, lead Senate negotiator Les Donovan, a Wichita Republican, said: "I think you can definitely take it as a sign of something."
The negotiators scheduled their meeting after GOP leaders in the House and Senate issued dueling invitations for all Republican lawmakers to meet together to air their differences on budget and tax issues. Lawmakers must resolve tax issues before they can finish their work on a proposed state budget of roughly $14.5 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Democrats and Republicans in each chamber caucus separately almost daily to discuss legislation, but joint caucuses involving members of one party from both chambers are unusual.
House Republicans invited GOP senators to their Wednesday afternoon caucus. Senate GOP leaders said business would prevent them from attending but then invited House Republicans to attend a Senate GOP caucus Thursday morning.
"It is time to find it and bring the session to a close," House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, a Louisburg Republican, said in a statement.
Page 2 of 2 - The private GOP talks have excluded Democrats, whose leaders have said their members aren't likely to vote for any compromise that emerges anyway. Democrats see last year's income tax cuts as reckless and oppose the GOP's goal of shifting most of the burden of funding state government to the sales tax, because poor families tend to pay a higher percentage of their incomes than wealthy ones.
Republican leaders had promised that lawmakers would be in session 80 days, trimming 10 days off the normal 90-day schedule. But Wednesday was the 82nd day.