Senate approves COVID relief for businesses, school property tax extension

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 7:01 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Kansas Lawmakers went back to work Tuesday with school funding and COVID-relief dollars sparking debate.

The Senate unanimously passed one part of House Bill 2313, extending the current state 20-mil property tax levy for schools. However, it took several hours of debate before they approved the other portion of the bill, providing some $700 million in relief to Kansas business hurt by COVID-pandemic restrictions. The vote was 26-13.

The amount was pared down from an initial proposal of $2 billion. The bill gives $350 million in coronavirus relief funds to the state, and another $350 million to cities and counties to compensate small businesses forced to close, or that had operations restricted.

Senate Democratic Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, suggested splitting off the school property tax portion of the bill, citing concerns with other parts she said could be costly and negatively effect public education funding.

“We have over the whole session catered a lot to our businesses giving them tax credit tax benefit, “ Sykes said. “We haven’t had a clean bill on the 20 mills and I just think it’s important for those who support public education and want to be able to have a sustainable budget - to have that as a freestanding vote.”

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, disagreed.

“The Senate spent a lot of time looking at getting some guard rails if you will, and some clear directives, as far as some high-density at-risk funds should be spent,” she said. “Because the funding formula is based on what attendance was last year, so even school districts that have lower attendance this year, next year when they’re figuring their formula, they will be able to pick whatever was from the three prior years - here’s the highest enrollment number.”

Senators voted 35-0 on the school tax levy portion of the bill, but the bulk of school funding remains up in the air. Committees were slated to return to work Wednesday, trying to craft budget bills which include education dollars.

“Our budget right now, we are overspending what we’re bringing in by $326 million, so that is a serious concern. We have several bills can that we will be debating on the Senate floor today - giving more handouts to businesses when we have not have passed a sustainable fiscally responsible budget,” Sykes said.

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