Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature tax policy was saved by three votes as the Kansas Senate fell short Wednesday of overriding his veto on a bill that would have generated $1 billion over two years.
Brownback will spend the rest of week in Washington, D.C., as lawmakers are left to contemplate a path forward for closing the state’s budget gap, which stands at more than $1 billion through June 2019.
Senate leaders have called for patience as other options are weighed, but many lawmakers in the House remain committed to rolling back Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts, which they blame for the state’s fiscal hole, and it could take months before they achieve a compromise.
The Senate vote capped off a dramatic day at the Kansas Capitol that began with Brownback’s veto and the Kansas House’s 85 to 40 vote to override it two hours later.
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The Senate voted 24-16 to override the veto later in the day, falling three votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for an override after both Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, spoke out against it.
HB 2178 would have eliminated a tax exemption that allows more than 330,000 business owners to pay zero state tax on their income and would have created a third tax bracket, undoing Brownback’s 2012 reforms.
Brownback told reporters the state “ought to be going to fewer brackets, not more” after he signed his veto in the morning.
He celebrated the Senate’s vote to sustain that veto late Wednesday.
“This punitive, retroactive tax increase on Kansas workers and families would have cut Kansans’ pay almost immediately,” Brownback said in a statement. “We will continue to work with legislative leadership to develop a balanced budget. I encourage them to find savings in the state’s budget before asking Kansans to find savings in theirs.”
Republican Sens. Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills and Dinah Sykes of Lenexa, two moderates elected to the chamber in 2016, said they thought the override measure would have passed if Wagle and Denning had supported it.
“Yes, that’s my belief,” Bollier said. “But we will never know, because it didn’t (happen).”
Denning said he didn’t have any regrets about voting against the override. He criticized the fact that the bill would have applied retroactively to Jan. 1 of this year.
“I did everybody a favor, actually,” Denning said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, called out Denning on the Senate floor, saying that the Republican leader told him that if the House were to override the veto that he would also vote to override it.
“That’s plain fact,” Hensley said. “That’s what he told me. And now it appears that will not be the case.”
Denning said he wouldn’t comment on Hensley’s claim.
“A private meeting, and with all the changes that happen from day to day, I’m not going to comment,” Denning said. “It’s inappropriate for Robert’s Rules to call any senator out by name.”
Wagle called the debate productive, but disagreed that she and Denning were the deciding factor in the vote’s outcome.
She also indicated that legislative leaders may not partner with Brownback in crafting a final fix, noting that they asked him to provide a new proposal before he vetoed the bill and did not receive one.
“I do believe the Senate and the House will have to come up with a plan to fix the budget,” Wagle said.
Pressed on if that meant she was looking for veto-proof majorities, Wagle said, “I believe that’s what’s going to happen.”
Some House members remain committed to the plan that the governor vetoed.
Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Republican, said that she knew an override would face “an uphill battle, but I was hopeful that senators would display some intestinal fortitude. This lack of intestinal fortitude on their part is very disappointing.”
Clayton said that the House should remain steadfast and continue to push for the legislation, which she said represents the will of the people, even if that means the session lasts for months.
“We’re in here as long as it takes for the Senate and the second floor to realize this problem needs to be fixed,” Clayton said, referencing the floor in the Capitol that houses the governor’s office. “The House is already well aware of that.”
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, predicted that the legislation will reappear as the session moves forward.
“All this does is slow down the session for a couple of weeks,” he said.
“Everything’s going to be chaotic for a while. There’s going to be a lot of different things said, different bills proposed…but at the end of the day, you’re going to see a plan substantially similar to what was rejected by an obstructionist governor and his followers in the Senate.”
Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said after the veto override failed “now we have nothing.”
She predicted that Senate leadership would use this to justify a budget bill that significantly cuts public schools.
“I think they’ll concoct something that won’t work and will not be progressive and they’ll try to ram that down our throats,” Kelly said.
A faction of hardline conservatives are unlikely to support any tax increase.
“It’s the old adage of the taxpayer vs. tax receiver,” Sen. Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republican, said after the vote. “And I think the taxpayers won on this one.”
A consensus solution could prove elusive, Bollier said.
“People like me are probably pretty dug into their position,” she said. “So when others aren’t willing to compromise, probably I won’t be willing to compromise, at least not at this point because, as they’ve said, we have plenty of time. So let’s take our time.”
How they voted
Here’s how members of the Johnson and Wyandotte county delegations voted on the motion to override the governor’s veto.
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, Melissa Rooker, Sean Tarwater
Democrats: Tom Burroughs, 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, Abraham Rafie, John Resman, Ron Ryckman, Scott Schwab, William Sutton