Kansas lawmakers closer on schools, face more talks on taxes

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas legislators are moving closer to approving a plan to increase spending on public schools even as agreement eludes them on boosting income taxes to pay for it and fix the state budget.

The Senate gave first-round approval just after midnight Tuesday to a bill that would phase in an increase in education funding of roughly $230 million over two years. Senators planned to take another vote Wednesday and were expected to pass the bill and send it to the House.

The House has its own plan to phase in a $285 million increase over two years, and the final plan is likely to emerge from negotiations between the two chambers. Their bills are a response to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling in March that the $4 billion a year that the state now spends on aid to its 286 local school districts is inadequate.

Attorneys for the four school districts that successfully sued the state have said neither plan is adequate. Republican leaders disagree and the court didn't say how much aid must increase in setting a June 30 deadline for lawmakers to pass a new school finance law.

In contrast to the progress on school funding, legislators are still struggling to come to a consensus on tax issues. The state faces projected budget shortfalls totaling $887 million through June 2019 — gaps that don't include new money for schools.

The House voted 85-37 late Tuesday night against a bill that would have raised $1.2 billion over two years by raising income tax rates and ending an exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners. The plan would have undone much of the past income tax cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging.

The House's action came after the Senate had passed the measure, 26-14. The two chambers are likely to resume negotiations on tax issues in hopes of finding a new plan.

Wednesday was the 103rd day of what was supposed to be a 100-day annual session. Top Republicans have said the Legislature will exhaust its budget for the session on Friday.