Kansas legislators abandon Brownback’s tax experiment

Gov. Sam Brownback gave a statement to the media Wednesday, June 7, 2017, concerning the Senate and House overriding his veto of a bill raising Kansas income taxes by $1.2 billion over two years. The governor left the news conference without taking questions. (Thad Allton/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have repudiated the tax-cutting experiment that brought Gov. Sam Brownback national attention, with even fellow Republicans voting to override his veto of a plan reversing many of the income tax reductions he championed in recent years as a way to fix the cash-strapped state’s budget.

Brownback decried the action Wednesday as harmful to the state’s economy, predicting that tax increases would slow job growth and discourage businesses from moving to Kansas.

“We’re going to have long-term negative consequences for the economy of this state, for the people of Kansas,” Brownback told reporters during a news conference, refusing to take questions. “A lot of people made it about me, but it’s not about me.”

The conservative Republican governor still touts the income tax cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013 as pro-growth policies. But voters soured last year on the governor’s policies, ousting two dozen of his allies from the Legislature and giving more power to Democrats and moderate Republicans who then backed this year’s tax increase.

The Legislature’s action Tuesday night leaves Brownback’s main political legacy in tatters.

“He believes — still believes — in this, and that’s OK. I don’t,” said Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a conservative Kansas City-area Republican who supported the first round of tax cuts in 2012 but voted to override the veto. “I’ve made many, many bad decisions in my business career, as many bad as good, but I’ve always backed up and mopped up my mess. That’s what I’m doing now.”

Kansas faces projected budget shortfalls totaling $889 million through June 2019. The new plan is expected to raise $1.2 billion in new revenue over two years by increasing personal income tax rates and ending an exemption for 330,000-plus farmers and business owners.

Under the new tax laws, Kansas will return to having a third tax income tax rate for its wealthiest filers, something cuts in 2012 eliminated. The top rate will be 5.7 percent, as opposed to 4.6 percent now.

The tax increase was designed to also cover extra aid to the state’s 286 local public school districts. The state Supreme Court ruled in March that education funding was inadequate. The state spends about $4 billion a year on its schools, and lawmakers passed a plan Monday night to phase in a $293 million increase in education funding over two years.

The House overrode the veto Tuesday night with an 88-31 vote , four votes more than the necessary two-thirds majority. The Senate earlier overrode Brownback’s veto with a vote of 27-13 , exactly the two-thirds majority required.

Brownback’s remaining legislative allies argued that Kansas has done little to control its spending — a point many Democrats and GOP moderates disputed.

“This level of taxation is wholly unnecessary,” said Sen. Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area conservative Republican. “What we’re doing is fleecing our constituents.”

Lawmakers planned to return to the Statehouse on Wednesday to work on a budget and other last-minute issues, in an attempt to end one of the longest legislative sessions in state history.

 

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