Kansas senators agree on a reshaped tax proposal

The Republican-dominated Kansas Senate rewrote tax legislation before giving it first-round approval Wednesday night, keeping GOP Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposals for cutting income tax rates further but scrapping some of his revenue-raising ideas.

Senators advanced the measure on a voice vote after nearly five hours of debate. Final approval Thursday would send the legislation to the House, which is considering its own alternative to Brownback’s plan.

The governor and many Republican legislators would like to phase out personal income taxes eventually, and the Senate’s bill follows up on massive income tax cuts enacted last year.

The measure phases in a second round of rate reductions over the next four years.

The bill also retains Brownback’s proposal to keep the state sales tax where it is, instead of reducing it as scheduled in July.

The Senate’s tinkering with Brownback’s plan came on income tax deductions.

Brownback wanted to scrap two popular deductions for homeowners, for their property taxes and the interest on their mortgages.

Senators opted instead for phasing out most income tax deductions as tax rates dropped — largely along lines suggested by the Kansas Association of Realtors — to retain at least partial breaks for homeowners.

Supporters of additional income tax cuts believe they will stimulate the economy. But many of them — including the governor — acknowledge that last year’s aggressive cuts created budget problems.

“So here we are, back here, trying to make the best of or repair something that needs work,” said Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee chairman Les Donovan, a conservative Wichita Republican.

But Brownback and Senate GOP leaders faced criticism both from Democrats and a few conservative Republicans, particularly when it came to canceling the promised sales tax decrease.

Critics note that poor families pay a higher percentage of their incomes to the sales tax than wealthy ones do. And unlike most states, Kansas imposes the full tax on groceries.

But some conservative Republicans regard failure to make the promised sales tax reduction as a tax increase.