Government & Politics

Kansas House overrides Brownback veto of tax bill

Gov. Sam Brownback talked to reporters Wednesday morning after vetoing a tax bill that supporters said would help solve the state’s budget woes.
Gov. Sam Brownback talked to reporters Wednesday morning after vetoing a tax bill that supporters said would help solve the state’s budget woes. hwoodall@kcstar.com

Gov. Sam Brownback’s attempt to keep a tax plan that he’s dubbed the largest tax increase in Kansas history from becoming law failed to dissuade lawmakers in the Kansas House from going against the governor’s wishes.

The House voted 85-40 to override the governor’s veto Wednesday morning, roughly an hour after the governor officially vetoed the bill.

The Kansas Senate would now have to go against the governor for the bill to become law.

“I think it’s unconscionable to keep cutting these services that people rely upon,” said Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Democrat from Merriam who voted for the bill. “I think it’s unconscionable to cut K-12 any further while we have a lawsuit pending. It’s time to go back to work.”

The victory for supporters of the tax bill only came after two Republican lawmakers decided at the last minute to change their votes before the roll call closed.

“I didn’t want to vote for it because I think it’s an ugly package,” said Rep. Clay Aurand, a Belleville Republican who cast the deciding yes vote. “There’s a lot of things I don’t like about it. But again, when you do not see any possible options of something that is better, not passing this could be worse.”

The effort to override the veto in the Senate may pose more of a challenge. The vote to originally pass the bill was five short of the 27 needed to overcome a veto.

Sen. Randall Hardy, a Salina Republican who voted for the tax bill, said he would still support the proposal despite the governor’s veto.

“I’m just hopeful that the House and Senate rise to the occasion and override the veto because I think that is where the best option is to deal with the financial mess we’re in,” Hardy said.

The bill, first passed by the Kansas Legislature last week, would raise income tax rates and end a tax exemption for roughly 330,000 business owners.

Brownback said he strongly opposed the income tax increases in the bill, but also said he wasn’t willing to do away with a business tax exemption, called by some the LLC loophole, that keeps those business owners off the tax rolls.

“I think we ought to be going to fewer brackets, not more,” Brownback said.

During the House debate on the bill, Republicans clashed over whether the tax bill that was vetoed had gone too far.

Rep. Chuck Weber, a Wichita Republican, said the plan was “too much, too soon.”

“I think we can do better, I really do,” Weber said.

The vote for the tax bill was one of the first major votes for new lawmakers like Rep. Tom Cox, a Shawnee Republican, who ran on changing Brownback’s tax policy.

He told lawmakers Wednesday morning that he understood that his vote for the bill may have hurt his chances of re-election in 2018.

“I did not enjoy this vote,” he said before pledging to campaign for lawmakers who vote for the bill.

That business tax exemption became a major issue in 2016 legislative campaigns, where moderate candidates ousted more conservative counterparts from office by advocating for that portion of the tax system to come to an end.

If enacted, the legislation HB 2178 is expected to raise more than $1 billion for the state over the next two fiscal years.

That would happen by increasing a second income tax rate and bringing in a third income tax bracket that would tax individual tax filers who make more than $50,000 and married filers who make over $100,000.

The tax would also be retroactive to the start of the year, a portion of the bill criticized by both the governor and lawmakers voting against the bill.

“It’s just, it’s not good,”said Rep. Blake Carpenter, a Derby Republican who voted against the bill. “It’s just not good for Kansas.”

Even supporters of the legislation say it might not be enough to cover the financial obligations the state may have over that time.

Kansas is projected to have more than $1 billion in shortfalls through the end of fiscal year 2019.

The governor announced he would veto the bill at a large dinner held Tuesday night by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, an organization that regularly lobbies the Legislature.

The crowd cheered when he announced that he had decided to veto the bill.

The Kansas Governor said Tuesday that he was open to discussing tax proposals.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

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