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Kansas Senate Approves Tax Increase, Sending It to the Governor

The Kansas Senate chamber. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

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

The House had previously approved the bill. The 22-18 Senate vote sends the plan to the Republican governor's desk, where it could face a veto.

The bill would undo 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 over $1 billion in the next two years.

During a debate on the Senate floor, Republican Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine said it’s not a perfect bill. However, he supported the plan because it helps balance the budget without making cuts to schools and higher education.

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

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 approved by lawmakers in 2015.

Republican Senator Ty Masterson 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,” said Masterson. “We’re trying to make the government’s decisions easy and make it harder on the people.”

Republican Senate President Susan Wagle said they should address the issue of spending first, not go directly to 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.

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

Democratic Senator Tom Holland voted against the bill because he believes it doesn’t raise enough revenue to balance the budget, but he pushed back against the idea from some Republicans to focus on spending cuts.

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

Democratic Senator Anthony Hensley would have preferred a bill that raised more revenue, but he voted for the plan to send it 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.

Governor Brownback has roundly criticized the bill, but he has not specifically said he’d veto the plan.

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

After the bill passed the Senate, Brownback spokesperson Melika Willoughby wouldn't say if he'd made a decision.

"As with all legislation, Governor Brownback will review the bill closely once he receives it," said Willoughby.

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.

The tax increase would help the state balance the budget for the coming years, but it wouldn't impact a deficit in the current fiscal year. Lawmakers are considering borrowing from a state investment fund to balance the current year's budget.
 

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