Kansas House Approves Tax Increase, Sends Bill To Senate

Feb 16, 2017

The Kansas House approved a bill Thursday that would undo many of the state’s 2012 tax cuts to help balance the budget. The 76-48 vote sends the plan to the Senate for consideration.

While the bill had significantly more than the 63 votes needed to pass, it had received 83 votes during a preliminary test Wednesday. Those numbers are significant because 84 votes are needed to override a possible veto from Gov. Sam Brownback.

The measure would raise income tax rates, add a third income tax bracket and reinstate income taxes on hundreds of thousands of business owners that were exempted in 2012. It would raise taxes more than $1 billion in the coming years.

Rep. Steven Johnson, chairman of the House Tax Committee, said lawmakers must balance tax cuts and adequate funds for government services.

“It’s a return of some, not yet all, but some of the tax cut that we had,” said Johnson, an Assaria Republican. “I think we were directionally correct to lower tax rates in 2012. I do think we went farther than we could afford to go at that time.”

Johnson said the bill is a starting point and could be amended as it goes forward.

Kansas lawmakers have struggled to balance the budget since cutting taxes in 2012. They’re currently looking for ways to erase budget deficits projected to total more than $1 billion by the middle of 2019.

The House tax bill had support from lawmakers in both parties, including Democrat Rep. John Carmichael of Wichita, who said legislators need to get the state’s finances on solid ground.

“In the House of Representatives, there is a strong bipartisan coalition and commitment to try to fix this problem,” Carmichael said. “I’m willing to put my name on the line and vote yes even though it does represent an increase in taxes.”

But Rep. Trevor Jacobs, a Fort Scott Republican, said reinstating income taxes on business owners is bad economic policy. 

“How can the state ask for prosperity when it cuts the vital roots of growth? The problem is not that people are taxed too little; the problem is that government spends too much,” Jacobs said.

Brownback has strongly defended the tax cuts, saying they are needed to boost the economy. On Wednesday he said that he would not sign the House tax plan into law if it made it to his desk.

“I am opposed to broad-based rate increases on income taxes. I won’t sign that,” Brownback said. “It’s going against the trend of everywhere in the country, if not in the world.”

The tax increase would not help with a budget shortfall in the fiscal year that ends in June. House lawmakers gave first-round approval Thursday to a bill that would dissolve a state investment fund to help fill that budget hole.

The Kansas Senate could debate the House-approved proposal this week.

On Thursday, senators considered another tax bill pushed by Democrats in the chamber that would have raised more revenue than the legislation approved by House lawmakers.

The Senate roundly rejected the bill on a 10-30 vote. Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, said that although the bill failed, it marked the start of a process.

“We’ve got to find a combination of revenue increases and cuts to get us out of this, and it’s going to take a couple cycles of going through this until we find that sweet spot,” Holland said.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service.