Stephen Koranda

Stephen Koranda is the Statehouse Bureau Chief for Kansas Public Radio.

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There’s a new tax plan headed for debate in the Kansas House. A legislative committee has advanced a proposal that would focus on sales taxes to fill a budget hole of more than $400 million. 

The bill relies mostly on increasing the Kansas sales tax rate from 6.15 percent to 6.85 percent. It also reduces or eliminates most tax deductions. Republican Representative Kasha Kelley, one of the plan’s authors, would prefer more spending cuts but says sales tax is another option.

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The House Tax Committee is considering a plan to raise the sales tax in Kansas to help fill a budget hole. During a hearing Wednesday, no one spoke in favor of the plan and only one person signed up to speak against the bill. The Kansas Policy Institute opposes the tax increase and says lawmakers should instead consider more budget cuts.

The committee’s chairman, Republican Marvin Kleeb, says raising the state sales tax from 6.15 to 6.5 percent would provide a quicker infusion of cash.

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Kansas lawmakers this week heard from industry experts about changing the state’s retirement plan from a traditional pension to a 401(k)-style retirement system. Under the proposed “defined contribution” system, employees are responsible for investing their retirement savings. That change would reduce the state's investment risk. Republican Representative Ron Ryckman says lawmakers need to consider all their options.

"We owe it to our employees and our taxpayers to look under every rock, look at every solution. And that’s what today’s about,” says Ryckman.

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Health care advocates are calling for Kansas lawmakers to increase tobacco taxes to help fill a budget hole of more than $400 million. Dr. Roy Jensen, with the University of Kansas Cancer Center, says the governor’s proposed tax increase on tobacco could cause thousands of Kansans to quit or never start smoking. He says that could save the state a billion dollars in health care costs in the coming decades and possibly prevent up to 15,000 deaths. 

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The wind power industry, free-market business groups, the governor and lawmakers have unveiled a compromise to overhaul the Kansas renewable energy standard. It would remove the mandate that 20 percent of power generation come from renewable sources and replace it with a voluntary goal.

Some advocacy groups get something they’ve wanted, eliminating the mandate for renewable energy. Mike O’Neal is president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

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The chair of the Senate Tax Committee in the Kansas Legislature says he’ll offer some proposals next week that could close the budget gap. Legislators need to fill a hole of more than $400 million. But, he’s offering few details.

Republican Kansas state Senator Les Donovan had reporters thinking he was giving them a hint on the plans. He says there’s been too much focus on Kansas eliminating income taxes for many business owners. He says when the state cut personal income tax rates that did more to cause the budget gap.

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Kansas lawmakers didn’t take on anything too significant their first day back from spring break. They’re going to be spending the rest of the wrap-up session looking for ways to fill a deficit of more than $400 million. As KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports, tax committees are scheduled to start work Thursday.

The chairman of the Kansas House Tax Committee, Republican Marvin Kleeb, says they’re going to start first by digging into the budget numbers. Then next week, they’ll start looking at tax proposals.

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A state audit is critical of a Kansas program where some convicted sex offenders are sent for treatment after they serve their prison sentences. The audit says the involuntary program doesn’t offer individualized treatment and most people don’t complete it. Kari Bruffett is secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, which runs the Sexual Predator Treatment Program. She says the audit doesn’t take into account recent improvements they’ve made.

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  A group of state officials and economists will met this week to put together a new estimate of Kansas tax collections. That information is critical for lawmakers as they build the state budget.

Kansas legislators decided to wait to do the final work on the budget until after their spring break.

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There's a push to repeal a program that allows more than 600 undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Kansas colleges and universities, but a bill aimed at doing that faltered in a House panel. The bill failed to make it out of the House Education Committee after a debate Thursday. 

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A bill that scraps the school funding system is heading to the Kansas governor’s desk.  It would temporarily create a block grant system while lawmakers write a new funding formula. 

Supporters of the bill say it has $300 million in new funding and gives Kansas schools more flexibility.

Republican Senate President Susan Wagle says the bill lets them start over and ditches a school funding formula she calls “broken.”

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A Kansas lawmaker is pushing to make fantasy sports legal in Kansas. Republican Representative Brett Hildabrand has introduced a bill that would change state law to specifically allow fantasy sports. He says the state is not currently enforcing the ban on fantasy football and similar games, and he wants to prevent future enforcement.

“I want to make sure on down the road in this growing industry that we do not begin prosecuting average law-abiding citizens who are just trying to participate in a friendly pastime,” says Hildabrand.

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Republican leaders in the Kansas Legislature have unveiled a plan to toss out the current school funding formula and go to a block grant system for the next two years.

Republican Ty Masterson chairs the Senate’s budget writing committee. He says the bill would increase spending by $300 million for Kansas K-12 schools.

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The Kansas Senate has passed a bill that would allow Kansans to carry a concealed gun without a permit. Currently, residents must go through training and pass a background check before they are issued a permit to carry a hidden weapon.

Republican Senate President Susan Wagle voted in favor of the bill but with reservations. She says she has heard “legitimate concerns” from Kansans.

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The top Democrat in the Kansas Senate says lawmakers haven’t accomplished enough so far this session reports Stephen Koranda for Kansas Public Radio.

Legislators are facing a significant deadline this week, which marks the midpoint of their scheduled time in Topeka. Democratic Sen. Anthony Hensley believes they’re not making enough progress solving problems like a budget shortfall.

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Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994, but has not yet executed anyone in last 20 years. Opponents of the death penalty are hoping to replace the option with life in prison without the possibility of parole. Anti-death penalty advocates are renewing their push to change the law reports Stephen Koranda for Kansas Public Radio.

Stephen Koranda / kansaspublicradio.org

A Kansas Senate committee is looking at rewriting part of the public school funding formula. The Legislature passed a bill increasing one type of school aid last year, but when it was all said and done, the cost had risen beyond their initial estimates. Kansas Public Radio’s Stephen Koranda reports the bill would change how it's calculated and reduce that type of education spending by $40 million dollars.

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A group that advocates for Kansas children is protesting Governor Sam Brownback’s proposal to use money from a children’s fund to help cover a budget shortfall. The money comes from the 1990s tobacco settlement payments and is used for programs including Early Head Start. KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports on the proposal to help close a gap in the current fiscal year's budget.

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Democratic leaders in the Kansas Legislature have been tight-lipped about Governor Sam Brownback’s tax and budget proposal, until now. Top Democrats voiced their concerns about the plans at a press conference on Friday.

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Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss is defending the state’s system for selecting Supreme Court justices.

Governor Sam Brownback last week said the system should be changed to be, as he called it, more “democratic.” His proposals would allow the governor to pick nominees or have voters directly elect justices.

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Kansas Secretary of Transportation Mike King is asking lawmakers not to touch one of KDOT’s funding sources. Lawmakers will be looking for ways to fill a budget gap, and the money could be attractive. KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports four-tenths of a percent of the state sales tax goes to KDOT for road projects.

Secretary King says the sales tax funding is a steady source of income, which is important when they’re borrowing money.

Photo courtesy of the Kansas Geological Survey / kansaspublicradio.org

The recent drop in oil prices is translating into fewer tax dollars collected by the state of Kansas. That comes as lawmakers are already facing budget deficits reaching hundreds of millions of dollars. As KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports, oil producers pay a so-called severance tax based on the price of crude oil.

When economists met in November to create a new revenue estimate for Kansas, they used a crude oil price of $80 per barrel.

Some Kansas lawmakers have been getting a lot of attention during this legislative session for controversial bills they've introduced. Some lawmakers argue that the initiatives are distracting from core issues, like the economy, and are casting a negative light on the state.

Last year, Kansas became the first state in the nation to completely eliminate arts funding. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has always said he supports the arts, but when the state was facing a tight budget, he said Kansas needed to cut back.

"As we look to grow Kansas' economy and focus state government resources to ensure the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars, we must do all we can to protect the core functions of state government," he said.