The House advanced a bill Thursday to authorize four counties to hold votes on raising sales taxes to cover local projects.
Also included in House Bill 2033 is legislative blessing of an unauthorized tax increase already adopted in Finney County.
Rep. Adam Smith, R-Weskan, urged lawmakers to support local authority over the requests, which failed to pass the Legislature a year ago.
Funds from a 1.5 to 1.75 percent sales tax in Thomas County would help pay for a courthouse, jail and law enforcement center. A half-cent tax in Russell County would pay for economic development. In Jackson County, the 0.4 percent increase would pay for infrastructure. Dickinson County would seek a half-cent sales tax for road work.
All of the increases would have a limited time span.
"These local communities really need this to get done," Smith said.
Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, complained that Finney County acted inappropriately by allowing voters in 2017 to approve a 0.3 percent increase without first seeking approval as required by law. The sales tax there will pay for infrastructure upgrades for 15 years.
"We shouldn't be conducting advisory elections and then coming back to the Legislature and saying, well, let's ratify this action after the fact," Carmichael said. "Finney County needs to follow the law just like the other counties involved in this bill."
He also asked Smith whether he would agree that sales taxes are generally regressive.
"Sales taxes are sales taxes," Smith said.
Carmichael said "of course" sales taxes "fall most heavily on those least able to pay."
"This concept that just because the majority of the voters in a particular county think it's a good idea to jack up the sales taxes on everyone in the county, including those least able to pay, doesn't mean that we should just rubber stamp that idea every time it comes along," Carmichael said.
The bill won first-round approval on a voice vote.
A proposal by Rep. Tim Hodge, D-North Newton, to exempt food from the sales tax increases failed 87-32 after Smith and Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Assaria, voiced concerns.
"The effort to reduce or limit the increases of sales tax on food I think is a valued one and a good direction to head," Johnson said. "My concern with this one would be the consistency between various numbers."
Hodge and Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, on Monday introduced legislation to reduce the statewide sales tax on food by 50 percent.
On the Senate side, a bipartisan group proposed a bill this week that would provide property tax relief to low-income seniors and disabled veterans with homes valued at less than $350,000.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, Sen. John Doll, I-Garden City, Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, and Sen. Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa. It is expected to affect about 42,000 homeowners with an impact of $10 million on the state budget.
“With ever-rising property taxes, this is a bill that truly provides relief,” Holland said. “Kansans who qualify for this program will get a check back from the Department of Revenue when they process the income tax return.”