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Kansas House Approves Tax Bill after Overnight Debate

Republican Rep. Marvin Kleeb watches as votes are counted during the debate. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

The Kansas House narrowly passed a tax bill around 4 o'clock this (FRI) morning after an overnight debate. The chamber had previously rejected several tax proposals. As KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports, the bill’s passage may pave the way for the end of the 2015 legislative session.

Yesterday (THUR) started with a loss in the Kansas House. A tax bill that would have filled the state’s $400 million budget hole failed badly.

But there was soon added pressure from Governor Sam Brownback asking lawmakers to get the job done on taxes and end the session.
“I’m not the appropriator. They’re the ones, this is the power of the purse, and with it comes that responsibility,” says Brownback.

Brownback then turned up the heat even more. His administration said no tax bill would mean big state budget cuts, or possibly even a veto of the Kansas higher education budget.
When the tax debate started in the House, Republican Representative Marvin Kleeb pointed out that the state had made significant tax cuts in 2012.
“Maybe it was just a little bit too much, but I don’t know whether we should apologize for giving tax relief and letting hardworking Kansans keep their dollars,” says Kleeb.
The plan increases the state sales tax rate from 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent. It also reduces tax deductions, slows some personal income tax cuts and raises the cigarette tax by 50 cents per pack.
“I don’t like this bill at all, but I’ll support it.”
That’s another Republican representative, Rick Billinger. The fear of  higher education cuts made him support the bill.
“We’re charged with doing a job here, and it’s not an easy job when it comes to raising taxes, but time’s ran out. I don’t want to gamble that our colleges, our regents, get cut,” says Billinger.
The bill includes some provisions aimed at attracting conservative Republicans who opposed other tax plans. It includes $50 million in additional budget cuts and a limit on the growth of state government spending.
Representative Kasha Kelley is a conservative who voted in favor.
“Tonight, you showed Kansas in the toughest of moments you would stand up. There’s been no other way that anyone has come forth to fix this,” says Kelley.
The opponents of the bill say there were other options. Republican Stephanie Clayton says this plan doesn’t address underlying issues. She thinks they should have revisited the 2012 tax cuts and not gone into legislative overtime.
“Kansans do not deserve Band-Aid solutions. Kansans deserve a legislature that gets the job done, gets it done on time and gets it done correctly. That did not happen tonight,” says Clayton.
The bill reverses a small part of the 2012 tax cut for businesses, but thousands of business owners will still pay zero income tax under the plan. That bothers Democratic Representative Boog Highberger.
“I think this tax break is very unusual, in that almost no one I talk to who benefits from it wants it. They think it’s unfair,” says Highberger.
The plan has some provisions benefitting low-income Kansans, but Democratic Representative Jim Ward says the sales tax increase still hurts Kansans who don’t make that much money.
“It puts a huge, massive tax increase on the backs of the littlest guy in the state,” says Ward.
In the end, the bill was approved on a 63-45 vote.
This bill passing the House was a huge hurdle. It’s not a sure thing in the Kansas Senate, but a similar measure has already passed that chamber. If the Senate approves this House tax plan today, it will end the 2015 legislative session, the longest session in Kansas State history.

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