Tim Carpenter
May 22, 2017

Forty conservative House and Senate Republicans recommended Monday the Legislature step back from the precipice of a large tax increase and balance the budget by blocking all new discretionary spending and using part of Kansas’ annual tobacco industry payment to cover overdue pension obligations.

The outline was presented on the 98th day of the 2017 session as lawmakers debated details of legislation capable of raising enough money to meet a projected $900 million shortfall during the next two years and to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court directive to direct new funding to public school students deficient in math and reading.

None of the top Republican leaders of the House and Senate were part of the GOP group assembled for the briefing at the Capitol. The coalition featured 29 representatives and 11 senators, but no Democrats.

“As we approach Memorial Day,” said Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, “those controlling this Legislature are no closer to a solution than they were in January. We have a simple, straightforward plan that balances our budget without increasing the burden on hard-working Kansans.”

Masterson said Gov. Sam Brownback expressed support for the budget alternative, which would meet required spending for Medicaid and Medicare but didn’t account for likely tax increases necessary to elevate aid to K-12 districts. It would reduce the need for added revenue to balance the budget by slowing growth of government spending to more closely match the pace of economic expansion in Kansas, he said.

Rising consumer confidence, low unemployment, rising private-sector earnings and other positive signs in the national economy under President Donald Trump serve as evidence Kansas’ participation in that renewal would be jeopardized by tax increases, Masterson said.

Rep. Chuck Weber, a Wichita Republican, said the group of GOP legislators sought to transform Statehouse debate by pressing for a plan that “is a responsible path that does not require any new taxes.”

“The balanced budget proposal is our way of saying there is another way,” Weber said.

For years, Kansas and other states have received payments made from large tobacco companies tied to national settlement of a lawsuit. Brownback and others have contemplated selling off future annual tobacco payments in a process referred to as securitization.

Masterson said his group would accept sale of a portion of the state’s annual tobacco revenue to correct the state’s decision to skip more than $300 million in payments to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.

Money would be set aside to continue programs supported by the Children’s Initiatives Fund, he said.

Annie McKay, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, said digging into the tobacco payments to preserve the 2012 tax cuts signed into law by Brownback represented a betrayal of Kansas kids.

“We’re almost 100 days into the session and rather than address failed tax policy, some lawmakers want to eliminate the state’s entire early childhood infrastructure,” McKay said. “Legislators overwhelmingly rejected securitization at the start of the session this year and three times in 2016.”

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