TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas would impose a new tax on soda — a penny for every teaspoon of sugar — under a proposal that a key legislator outlined Tuesday while lawmakers considered raising taxes to erase a projected budget shortfall.
The soda tax advanced by Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican, would increase the cost of a 12-ounce can of soda by a dime and raise an estimated $90 million during the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Some Republican senators already are considering proposals to increase sales, tobacco and alcohol excise tax rates and eliminate sales tax exemptions. The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee began hearings Tuesday on a bill increasing sales and tobacco taxes.
But GOP senators who want to raise new revenues need support from Democrats, because conservative Republicans oppose increasing taxes. And Democrats want the Senate to discuss raising income taxes or repealing past business tax breaks.
Legislators are under increasing pressure from educators and others to raise taxes to sustain state programs. Advocates for the disabled staged several small, quiet protests Tuesday at the Statehouse.
The gap between anticipated revenues and what's necessary to keep programs at current levels is projected at $467 million for the next fiscal year. Vratil, the Senate's vice president, is working with Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, on a plan to increase taxes by $300 million.
"There are ideas ping-ponging around under the Capitol dome, and it's a little unclear which ones are part of the game and which ones are errant shots," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, an Independence Republican.
Vratil introduced his proposed soda tax during a meeting of the budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee, which agreed to sponsor it.
The committee also agreed to sponsor a bill doubling the per-gallon taxes paid by distributors of beer, wine and liquor and the tax that retail stores pay on their gross receipts. The measure would raise an additional $50 million.
Vratil said the soda tax is justified because Kansas — like the nation — is facing an epidemic of obesity and diabetes that is increasing health care costs.
Meanwhile, the Senate tax committee heard testimony from public health advocates backing Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson's proposal to raise the cigarette tax by 55 cents, to $1.34 a pack, and to quadruple the tax on other tobacco products to 40 percent. They said measure will raise revenue for programs while discouraging tobacco use.
Conservative Republicans argue that any of the tax proposals will slow economic recovery and increase costs for working families.
"I don't think they can afford any more taxes," said Sen. Tim Huelskamp, a Fowler Republican.
Senate tax committee members walked between two lines of people in wheelchairs to enter their meeting room and found small signs advocating increased funding for in-home services for the disabled at their spots at the table.
The advocates displayed empty wheelchairs outside the House Appropriations Committee's meeting room, and two draped in black, representing Death, stood outside the Statehouse garage to hand out fliers.
"People are literally dying while the Legislature fails to take decisive steps to resolve the budget crisis," said Greg Jones, advocacy director for Southeast Kansas Independent Living.
The advocates noted that 58 people on a waiting list for in-home services have died since December 2008; about 1,700 disabled Kansas residents are on the list. However, the state reported that 467 people who were receiving services died during the same period; about 6,600 are now receiving them.