Senate Sends Tax Increase Bill To Brownback

Feb 17, 2017

The Kansas Senate on Friday approved a bill that would roll back much of Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature tax policy to help balance future state budgets.

The 22-18 Senate vote sends the plan to the governor’s desk, where it could face a veto.

The bill, approved Thursday by the House, would roll back most of the 2012 tax cuts by increasing income tax rates, adding a third income tax bracket and reinstating income taxes on more than 300,000 business owners. It would bring in more than $1 billion in the next two years.

During debate Friday, Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine said the bill isn’t perfect. However, he supported the plan because it helps balance the budget without making cuts to funding for schools and higher education.

“For those that only want what they want, it’s going to be a difficult session,” said Longbine, an Emporia Republican. “For those that are willing to take something that’s not exactly what they wanted, this is our best option.”

Legislative staff provided a comparison of past, current and future tax rates under the bill.

Critics of the plan have blasted it, calling it the largest tax increase in state history. That’s the same criticism Democrats used when arguing against a tax increase that lawmakers approved in 2015 to end the session.

Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, did not mince words during the Senate debate. He called the tax increase “a piece of garbage” that will hurt working Kansans.

“This fleeces the working poor,” Masterson said. “We’re trying to make the government’s decision easy and make it harder on the people.”

Senate President Susan Wagle said legislators should address spending issues before tax increases.

“The way we should approach a deficit is the way families approach an unanticipated deficit. You cut spending and then you find a way to get an extra job and bring in some more income,” said Wagle, a Wichita Republican.

However, Wagle said many lawmakers don’t want to make cuts and the vote gave them a chance to weigh in on the plan.

Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, voted against the bill because he thinks it doesn’t raise enough revenue to balance the budget, but he pushed back against the idea of focusing on spending cuts.

“They’ve had four years to get spending under control,” he said. “How is it supposed to magically happen now if they didn’t have the numbers before to make it happen?”

Sen. Anthony Hensley said he also would have preferred a bill that raised more revenue, but he voted to send the tax plan to the governor.

“Because it is his economic policies that put us in this place that we are today, and we should give him the opportunity to see this bill on his desk,” said Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.

Brownback roundly criticized the bill earlier this week but did not specifically say whether he’d veto it.

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

Under Kansas law, Brownback has 10 days to consider the bill after it reaches his desk. If he takes no action, the plan will become law without his signature.

If Brownback vetoes the bill, it seems unlikely there would be enough votes for the two-thirds majority needed to override that veto. The House tally was seven votes shy of the 84 needed to override. It could be significantly harder to get the 27 needed votes in the Senate.

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