Governor Brownback has new tax plan, but has yet to provide details

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TOPEKA, Kan. -- Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has a new plan for raising taxes to close a projected budget shortfall.

But he wouldn't discuss the details Friday evening.

Legislators were on their ninth day over the normal session, trying to bang out and approve a budget that would fund the State of Kansas in the next fiscal year, which starts on July 1st.

Lawmakers need to come up with about $400 million, and only minor progress has been made. Republicans who control the Legislature have been divided over how to raise new revenues to erase the shortfall $406 million shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

They are considering increasing sales, tobacco and business taxes but can't agree on specific proposals.

The Republican governor called a news conference for Friday evening to announce his new plan but canceled it less than 40 minutes later, just before the event was to start. He met privately with top legislators instead.

One of several bills on the table would allow Kansans behind on their taxes to file and pay without penalty, but that would only generate $30 million.

"That does not come close to filling in the shortfall of almost 400 million dollars but at least it is a step in the right direction," said Senator Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka)

Sen. Hensley is the minority leader, and says there are two bills that need to be passed: a tax plan that would fund the budget, and the budget itself. At this point, it’s a frantic race against time.

"I would say that both houses are in a meltdown phase, I don't think it is exclusive to the Senate," he said.

If a budget isn’t passed, state employees could be forced to take furloughs, essentially shutting down the government. One of those state agencies is the State of Kansas Judicial Branch.

"I have been here for 32 years, actually going on 33 years and so have never seen any kind of budget issues this year,” said Lisa Flemming.

Flemming is a court services officer. She says the Kansas court system has been underfunded and limped along for years by not filling vacant jobs, and since 2008, there have been no raises and two furloughs. Flemming says this furlough will be different, unlike prior furloughs, it is expected to be a significant amount of time.

"It has been the opinion of the chief judges in Kansas that we will run the courts until the money runs out, and when the money runs out and they can no longer pay us, then the doors will close and the services will stop," she said.

Flemming supervises high-risk offenders, sex offenders, domestic violence offenders, and the mentally ill. Her office sees 3,000 clients a week. She says if legislators don’t get it together and pass a budget, the judicial system will shut down and will affect public safety.

"There will be offenders that will not be supervised because if we are not here we don't supervise that offender population. There will be no court, so I hate to think what would happen if we are closed for an extended period of time and we have to let them go. That's a huge public safety issue,” she said.

The state's budget problems arose after lawmakers slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging as an economic stimulus. To avoid furloughs, many legislators believe the budget will need to be settled by June 6, a week from Saturday.