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Kansas Senate passes bill to raise taxes; now onto Governor Brownback

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TOPEKA, Kan. --  Kansas legislators approved a plan Friday afternoon that raises taxes in order to erase the deficit and avoid deep spending cuts. The Senate voted 21-19 Friday to approve a bill raising the sales tax to 6.5 percent from 6.15 percent. The House passed it 63-45 early Friday morning, and it goes next to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

The tax plan aimed at closing Kansas' budget shortfall faced an uncertain vote in the Senate.

Republican Sen. Steve Abrams from Arkansas City said the plan is "far less appealing," without provisions initiating a study of sales tax exemptions and repealed many of them in 2020 if lawmakers do not intervene.

The two bills under consideration would raise $384 million during the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Senate tax committee Chairman and Wichita Republican Les Donovan worried that the Senate would reject the tax plan that the House spent all night Thursday debating.

In addition to the state sales tax rising from 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent, the second House- approved measure will raise the cigarette tax by $.50 a pack to $1.29 total. The measure also includes a modest tax increase for business owners. The two measures would raise a projected total of $384 million, which is still $50 million away from balancing the budget. The expectation is that Governor Brownback will make $50 million in additional cuts to the budget.

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"We've been here long enough where it finally dawned on people that we've got to move forward, we're out of money," House Speaker Ray Merrick said. "We've been here an awful long time, putting in a lot of hours and finally people get to the point where we've got to put this thing behind us."

The agreement comes one day after the House overwhelmingly voted down a budget bill passed by the Senate. Lawmakers didn't like it for various reasons -so Thursday, House and Senate tax committee leaders met to come up with a proposal lawmakers could agree to.

"This is not the direction I wanted to go," Merrick said. "Being Republican, it's not in my DNA to raise taxes but there just wasn't the will of the body to try and take some of the tax breaks that we've given, take them back."

The next step is for the Senate to vote on this latest plan. They began meeting at 10 a.m. Friday to begin the debate. Gov. Brownback said he will sign the new bill if it passes both chambers.

"I don't want this to happen again," Merrick said. "If we have to do this again, it'll be tough. We got to fix the problem, hope it's enough to get us out to 2018."

The sales tax on food will stay the same for now. Lawmakers want to revive that proposal next year.