It was billed as the largest income tax cut in Kansas history.
From the start, the story goes, even Gov. Sam Brownback knew it was trouble.
The record tax cut of 2012 is wrecking havoc in Topeka today as lawmakers struggle to balance a budget that’s $400 million out of whack. Saturday marks the session’s 107th day, tying the all-time state record for longest session.
The birth of the tax cut, aimed mainly at job-creating businesses, was chock-full of duplicity, to hear former Kansas Senate president Steve Morris tell it.
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March 2012: The Senate defeats the tax cut bill on a 20-20 vote. Brownback quickly calls Morris and begs him to run the bill again and pass it. In Morris’ telling, the governor promised it wouldn’t be the final product. The bill would cut taxes, and revenue, even more than Brownback wanted. But he’d see to it that legislators slim it down, make it more palatable.
Morris has told this story many times, perhaps most recently to The Topeka Capital-Journal. Morris recalled Brownback’s comments that day: “I know this bill would wreck the state. We can’t do it …bad policy.”
Morris is a Republican, though he’s a moderate. In deference to a governor of his own party, he persuaded a few comrades to switch and pass the measure. The arrangement, Morris believed, was that the bill would go to a conference committee, where Brownback would ensure that it was made more acceptable.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, the bill shot over to the conservative-controlled House, which adopted it just as it was, astonishing many, and was made law after Brownback signed it. The governor denies ever giving any assurances to Morris.
In January this year, Brownback placed the blame on the GOP for blowing it back in 2012.
“What I got from the Legislature was a naked tax cut with none of the pay-fors,” Brownback said. “I took it because it was the best we were going to get.”
Some would call that galling. Morris, who went out of his way to help the governor at a pivotal point of his administration, still can’t get over what happened next. In the August 2012 GOP primary, Brownback purged moderates like Morris from the statehouse.
Now Brownback is dealing with an intensely conservative Legislature that he put in place and that is resisting the tax increases needed to balance the budget.
A governor who entered office with a tax cutter’s reputation now faces a dramatically different legacy — that of the biggest tax raiser in Kansas history.