The Kansas Senate passed a bill 22-18 Friday morning raising income taxes and ending a tax exemption for roughly 330,000 business owners. File photo
The Kansas Senate passed a bill 22-18 Friday morning raising income taxes and ending a tax exemption for roughly 330,000 business owners. File photo

Government & Politics

Kansas Senate passes tax increases opposed by Gov. Sam Brownback

By Hunter Woodall

February 17, 2017 10:53 AM


Gov. Sam Brownback has a choice to make.

After the Kansas Legislature on Friday approved legislation that would reverse his signature tax cuts, he can veto the bill or let it become law without his signature. He has already said he wouldn’t sign it.

“As with all legislation, Governor Brownback will review the bill closely once he receives it,” the governor’s spokeswoman, Melika Willoughby, said in an email.

The Kansas Senate passed the bill 22-18 Friday morning. Because no amendments were made to the legislation first passed by the House, it heads to the governor’s desk.

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The bill is projected to raise more than $1 billion over two years by raising income taxes and ending a tax exemption for roughly 330,000 business owners.

Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican who voted for the bill, said the governor could get a popularity boost if he lets the legislation take effect.

“I’m not sure his ratings can go any lower,” Bollier said. “That clearly isn’t going to impact his decision, I don’t think. I would say if he does (let the bill become law), his ratings will go up, and if he had the guts to sign the thing, then they really would.”

Other Republicans said Friday they didn’t see Brownback doing that.

“I would be really surprised if the governor allows this to become law,” said Sen. Jacob LaTurner, a Pittsburg Republican who voted against the bill. “Clearly it’s a long way from what he proposed.”

The state faces roughly $750 million in budget shortfalls over the next two years. A different shortfall of around $320 million this year cannot be mended by the tax increases.

The bill is one of the largest Kansas tax increases in recent memory, coming on the heels of another sizable tax increase in 2015 when lawmakers raised the sales tax and boosted the state’s take on a pack of cigarettes.

The new tax plan would bring in more money by adding a third income tax rate of 5.45 percent for single filers who make more than $50,000 and married joint filers who make more than $100,000.

It also boosts a second income tax rate to 5.25 percent. That rate would be paid by those who file individually and make more than $15,000, but not more than $50,000, and couples filing jointly who make more than $30,000, but not more than $100,000.

A lower tax rate of 2.7 percent, the only rate staying the same, will be for individual Kansans making less than $15,000 and joint filers who take in under $30,000.

Conservative Republicans came out strongly against the bill on the Senate floor.

“This is akin to the old medical practice of bleeding to make you feel better,” said Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, a Leavenworth Republican who opposed the bill.

The bill fleeces the working poor, said Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican.

“I will not be supporting this piece of garbage,” he said before the vote.

Sen. David Haley was one of the last senators to cast his vote in favor of the bill. But the Kansas City, Kan., Democrat did so with some hesitation.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever had a more intense vote in 23 years of being here,” he said.

He and other Democrats said the bill fails to completely mend the problems they see in Kansas.

But lawmakers see it as a start.

The debate Friday morning quickly became an airing of grievances over the issues that have marked the Brownback era.

Conservatives remained supportive of the governor’s policies, decried the increase in taxes on Kansans and said the state has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

Democrats kept coming back to this point: They believe Brownback’s tax cuts and leadership brought them to a day like this, where tax increases were a path forward.

Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican, said he had some heartburn about the bill. But he’s learned in the Senate that you rarely get everything you want.

“To those that only want what they want, it’s going to be a difficult session,” Longbine said before voting for the bill.

The bill gives lawmakers a path to avoid cuts to education, he said.

“This might be our best shot,” Longbine said.

Brownback has stuck by his 2012 tax cuts, which slashed income tax rates and gave the business tax exemption.

Budget shortfalls, cuts and tax increases of a different kind have followed since that move was made.

A year ago, a bill that would have ended the Brownback tax cut for thousands of business owners couldn’t even make it out of the Kansas House.

But closing the tax exemption known as the LLC loophole became a major issue of the 2016 campaign, where new moderate candidates won spots held by more conservative incumbents.

Sen. Dinah Sykes, a moderate Republican from Lenexa who was elected last fall, said the bill is a start and gets Kansas on the path that it needs to be on.

“I’m not saying that a vote for taxes is a good vote,” Sykes said. “No one likes paying taxes. But we want to see our schools funded, we want to see our roads kept in good condition, we want to know that when we dial 911, that a firefighter or a police officer are going to show up.”

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, bemoaned the tax increases and said “spending is out of control.”

Pilcher-Cook said she was sick and running a fever, but wanted to make sure she voted against the tax bill to “defend the citizens of Kansas.”

“It’s time legislators stop thinking they know more than everybody else,” she said. “Wanting to spend other people’s money, it’s just wrong.”

Earlier in the week, Brownback asked a small crowd of business owners to go to their senators and oppose the bill.

It appears that effort on the governor’s part was unsuccessful.

The bill passed by the Senate Friday had strong bipartisan support in the House, where it was approved on a final vote of 76 to 48.

Not even Senate Republicans are sure what will happen next.

“I hope the governor vetoes the bill,” said Sen. Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republican. “But I don’t know. I’m like everybody else, million dollar question, what’s the governor going to do?”

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

How they voted

Here’s how members of the Johnson and Wyandotte county delegations voted on the bill, House Bill 2178:

Yes votes in the Senate: Republicans: Barbara Bollier, John Skubal, Dinah Sykes

Democrats: David Haley, Pat Pettey

No votes in the Senate: Republicans: Molly Baumgardner, Jim Denning, Steve Fitzgerald, Julia Lynn, Robert Olson, Mary Pilcher-Cook

Yes votes in the House: Republicans: Shelee Brim, Larry Campbell, Stephanie Clayton, Tom Cox, Linda Gallagher, Jan Kessinger, Joy Koesten, Patty Markley, Abraham Rafie, Melissa Rooker, Sean Tarwater

Democrats: Pam Curtis, Stan Frownfelter, Broderick Henderson, Cindy Holscher, Nancy Lusk, Cindy Neighbor, Jarrod Ousley, Brett Parker, Louis Ruiz, Jerry Stogsdill, Valdenia Winn, Kathy Wolfe Moore

No votes in the House: Republicans: Erin Davis, Willie Dove, Keith Esau, Randy Powell, John Resman, Ron Ryckman, Scott Schwab, William Sutton

Democrats: Tom Burroughs