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Analysis: If Gov. Sam Brownback’s push doesn’t work, what’s left to force lawmakers to end session?

Brownback in front of legislative leaders
Brownback in front of legislative leaders

On the 100th day, Gov. Sam Brownback spoke.

In laying out his ideas Saturday for how lawmakers should close a yawning $400 million budget gap, the Republican governor fired one of the last remaining arrows in anybody’s quiver to find a way to end the 2015 legislative session.

The key component of Brownback’s plan is to raise the state sales tax to 6.65 percent. That’s up from the present rate of 6.15 percent, and he wouldn’t protect food from the increase.

As an inducement to moderate Republicans and Democrats who still loathe Brownback’s business tax cuts of recent years, the governor would strip the income tax from about 388,000 low-income Kansans. That’s about a third of all income taxpayers in the state.

Brownback’s plan is consistent with his long-standing view of eventually ridding Kansas of the income tax altogether.

But that’s a fight for another day. The current question is whether Brownback’s bold play will convince a majority of lawmakers to go along with his idea and conclude a session that’s already long in days and sky-high in frustration.

We should know in the next 48 hours.

Brownback was gambling Saturday. By weighing in so specifically, the governor was attempting to give direction to a Legislature that’s increasingly appeared rudderless of late. In doing so, he used up one of the few remaining pressure points at anyone’s disposal and placed his own stature on the line.

If a push from the state’s highest elected official doesn’t work, what’s left to turn the tide in a Legislature filled with conservatives loathe to raise taxes?

In talking to reporters, Brownback revealed that he had no guarantees in his hip pocket that lawmakers will go along with his idea. That suggested the governor is flying solo here without any certainty of success. That could prove to be a mistake.

“These things can take many votes. It’s time to start voting on plans,” Brownback said. “People, start putting forward your plans and let’s see what works its way through the system.”

This governor often gets what he asks for. So if this idea doesn’t fly, the path to final adjournment just grew steeper, and you wonder how this band of lawmakers can possibly get there.

To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to skraske@kcstar.com.

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