Kansas lawmakers approve $1.2B income tax hike, Brownback promises a veto

Gov. Sam Brownback responds to a reporter's question during an interview in his Statehouse office in Topeka, Kan., Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Gov. Sam Brownback promised early Tuesday morning to veto an income tax increase approved by the GOP-controlled Kansas Legislature to fix the cash-strapped state’s budget and meet a court mandate on funding for public schools.

Lawmakers approved a bill just after midnight that would raise $1.2 billion over two years by increasing income tax rates and ending an exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners. It repeals or rolls back past income tax cuts championed by the conservative governor.

Also sent Monday night to Brownback is another bill that would phase in a $293 million increase in spending on public schools over two years. The state Supreme Court ruled in March that education funding is inadequate and gave lawmakers until June 30 to pass a new school finance law.

The tax bill is meant to cover the higher spending on schools and close projected budget shortfalls totaling $889 million through June 2019. But Brownback issued a statement immediately after the tax bill’s passage saying it had “many deficiencies.”

“We have worked hard in Kansas to move our tax policy to a pro-growth orientation,” Brownback said. “This bill undoes much of that progress. It will substantially damage job creation and leave our citizens poorer in the future.”

The votes on the tax bill were 26-14 in the Senate and 69-52 in the House. The education funding bill passed by smaller margins, 23-17 in the Senate, and 67-55 in the House. Neither measure had the two-thirds majorities necessary in either chamber to override a veto, though Brownback did not say what he would do with the education bill.

The governor’s veto threat sets up another confrontation with a Legislature that moved to the left after elections last year. With the state’s budget problems persisting after the massive income tax cuts GOP lawmakers enacted in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging, voters turned on his legislative allies, electing more Democrats and GOP moderates.

But Brownback’s critics haven’t been able to reach veto-proof majorities in both chambers. The governor vetoed a smaller income tax increase in February, and lawmakers did not override him.

Legislators were feeling intense pressure to wrap up their business because Tuesday was the 109th day of an annual session that was supposed to last 100 days and that is already among the longest in state history.

“The people of Kansas, in my mind, are willing to pay for the services that they value,” said Sen. Randall Hardy, a moderate Salina Republican who unseated a Brownback ally last year. “We’re going to stop the hemorrhaging.”

Meanwhile, while GOP leaders argue the school funding plan will satisfy the Supreme Court, many legislators in both parties are skeptical.

The justices did not say exactly how much funding must increase when they set a June 30 deadline for lawmakers to pass a new school finance law. But attorneys for four school districts that sued the state in 2010 have said the increase needs to be much larger. Democrats have argued that the minimum is phasing in a $400 million increase over two years.

Democrats predicted the court will reject the plan and force lawmakers to have a special session to allow schools to open after June.

“It’s wrong to put our kids, schools and communities through that risk,” said Sen. Lynn Rogers, a Wichita Democrat.

 

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