Republican Senate leaders quickly backed away from a new tax proposal Tuesday after it became clear that support for the bill had fallen apart.
The legislation’s failure to even make it to a full debate signaled that lawmakers may still have a ways to go before they can reach clear consensus on a new tax plan.
“We thought we had something worked out,” said Senate Majority leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican. “We do not. So we’ve got to start over.”
The proposal, negotiated by leading members of the House and Senate tax committees this week, would have raised an estimated $879 million over the next two fiscal years by rolling back key components of Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts.
But some conservatives were quick to maintain their opposition to any tax increase, while Democrats said the bill failed to raise enough money.
And the threat of a likely veto from Brownback continued to linger over the tax discussions in the state Capitol.
“We have people that don’t think the tax bill raises enough,” said Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican. “And we have people that, if it raises more than that, they won’t vote for it. So we’ve got a teeter-totter, and we’re trying to find the balance.”
Lawmakers said they expect to continue negotiating, though it’s still unclear how much money the Legislature will need to raise as it faces almost $900 million in projected budget shortfalls over the next two fiscal years.
Adding to that to-do list is a new school finance formula, which currently calls for funding increases of roughly $150 million more each year for the next five school years in hopes of satisfying a ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court to adequately fund Kansas public schools.
After signaling that public negotiations could continue Wednesday, lawmakers quickly moved instead to schedule a conference committee meeting late Tuesday afternoon where a new tax plan could be brokered between House and Senate members.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said, “Everything’s up for negotiating again” when it comes to taxes.
“We’re back to the negotiating table to figure out if you want a smaller tax plan that’s Republican, that doesn’t get vetoed, then we need to get to 21” votes, Wagle said. “If you want a larger tax plan, there’s going to be a veto, we need to get to 27 on our side.”
The bill spiked by lawmakers would have started to raise individual income tax rates this year if it had become law.
It also would have ended the tax exemption for roughly 330,000 business owners, a policy cherished by Brownback.
But even before the bill made it to a full debate in either chamber, a leading Kansas Democrat said he and his fellow Democrats planned to oppose the bill.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said Democrats were concerned that the legislation fails to raise enough money.
“This bill doesn’t even come close to providing for a long-term fix,” Hensley said.
He confirmed Tuesday morning that he expected all nine of the Democrats in the Senate to vote against the bill, though he correctly anticipated that the bill would never make it to the Senate floor for that to happen.
“We’re going to oppose this tax plan,” Hensley said before Republicans pulled back the bill.
If all nine Democrats in the Kansas Senate opposed major tax legislation, that would effectively end the legislation’s chances of passing with a veto-proof majority.
A similar tax plan to the one that fell apart Tuesday was passed with bipartisan support back in February, though Brownback quickly vetoed the legislation.
That bill, which would have raised more than $1 billion over a two-year span, failed to gain enough support in the Senate to override Brownback’s veto.
Senate Republicans vented their frustrations once again during a party meeting Tuesday morning after Wagle and Denning said lawmakers should prepare to work over the weekend in light of the new tax plan’s failure.
The Kansas Legislature still has to pass a new school finance formula, take on taxes and agree on budgets for future years before the session ends.
“It’s coming to the time where we have to resolve some very difficult problems,” Wagle said. “And the public wants us to solve those problems.”