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Kansas Senate Debate Shows the Challenges of Passing a Tax Bill

Photo by Stephen Koranda

A tax debate in the state Legislature took a strange turn Wednesday, bringing together the Kansas Senate and a jar of catfish stink bait. As KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports, the unlikely pairing shows the political division in the chamber and how difficult it will be to pass a tax bill.

Kansas Senators and many political watchers were settled in for a long debate on the bill, aimed at filling a budget hole of more than $400 million. It would have raised tobacco, sales and businesses taxes to help close the gap.

Then when debate was opened on the bill, the first person to speak was Senator Dennis Pyle, a conservative Republican.

“In my trash, I’ve got, I found, I got it today,” says Pyle.

Senator Pyle paused as he picked up the trash can from next to his desk.

“In the trash there’s also something that smells really bad and if I opened it up this whole chamber would reek. It’s called stink bait,” says Pyle.

Senator Pyle said the tax bill belongs in the trash with the jar of rancid-smelling bait used to catch catfish. He made a motion to kill the bill, saying lawmakers should not be looking at tax increases and should stick with our current tax system.

“By not raising taxes, you’re going to empower the private sector. Or are you going to empower big government, are you going to empower more government consumption?” says Pyle.

And Pyle, the conservative Republican, had some unlikely allies in his effort to kill the tax plan.

“We need to drive a stake through the heart of this bill. And we need to send a message”

That’s Democrat Tom Holland. He, and other Democrats, will likely oppose anything that doesn’t do a wholesale rewrite of the 2012 tax cuts.

“We went down this path specifically because we were going to create jobs, we were going to be the miracle on the plains. We’re not fooling anybody,” says Holland.

The motion failed and debate continued on the bill, but the pairing of a Democrat and a conservative Republican trying to kill it shows the challenge for Kansas Senate leaders. To get a tax plan that balances the budget it will have to walk a political tightrope.

After a series of amendments, only one senator supported the bill during a final vote, Republican Les Donovan, who chairs the Senate Tax Committee.

“I understand that there’s not much favoritism on passing tax increases, never has been, never will be. I don’t like  it, but I try to be a realist and understand that when we have to do something we have to do something,” says Donovan.

Senate leaders say the debate wasn’t a waste, it gave them an idea of which tax plans might pass and which probably don’t have a chance. Terry Bruce is the Senate’s Republican majority leader.

“It’s like Churchill said, it’s not the beginning of the end but it’s the end of the beginning. I think we’ve kind of reached that point. We’ve narrowed down what we need to focus on,” says Bruce.

Today marks 98 days in what was supposed to be a 90-day session. Each of those overtime days costs the state more than $40,000.

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