Government & Politics

Most Kansans’ income taxes would rise under flat-tax plan OK’d by a House committee

The Kansas City Star

A House committee approved a new tax plan Wednesday that would levy a flat tax rate on most Kansans after intervention from the House leader may have given the bill a boost.

On a 14-7 vote, the House tax committee agreed to pass an amended version of House Bill 2395 to the chamber for a full vote.

The bill would set a single income tax rate of 5 percent and raise more than $840 million over the next two years as Kansas faces projected budget shortfalls of roughly $1 billion through the end of June 2019.

The tax plan would raise income taxes across the board, with the lower bracket seeing a jump from 2.7 percent to 5 percent, while the higher bracket of Kansas taxpayers would see a jump from 4.6 percent to 5 percent.

The debate Wednesday became heated among the Democrats and Republicans on the committee as it became clear the proposal would likely move forward.

Democrats compared the push for a flat tax to the process the Legislature went through in 2012 when it passed the tax cuts championed by Gov. Sam Brownback that many have denounced this session.

Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat, said Kansans wanted to see a new tax plan, but not like this.

“I can’t imagine that any one of them would think this is the fair way to fix it,” Wolfe Moore said. “This fixes it by shifting the burden to a certain group who probably can least afford this kind of increase. I’m kind of shocked that this is a real proposal.”

Rep. Louis Ruiz, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat, said it was his understanding that House Speaker Ron Ryckman had pulled in Republican members of the tax committee and asked them to be “team players” to help get the bill to the House floor.

Officials with Ryckman’s office did not dispute Ruiz’s description of events and said the House speaker had met with members of the tax committee

Rep. Steven Johnson, the Assaria Republican who leads the tax committee, said he believes that the speaker likes the flat tax bill.

“He did ask that I consider the bill,” Johnson said.

Earlier Wednesday afternoon, Ryckman said the flat tax was another option for lawmakers to look at.

“I lean towards making it simpler,” he said of the state’s income tax law.

The push for the bill comes as pressure builds to pass a new tax plan as the session continues with no clear compromise between Brownback and legislators.

Lawmakers meet for roughly one more week before adjourning for nearly a monthlong break.

The new legislation includes other changes, including ending a tax exemption for roughly 330,000 business owners and lowering a sales tax on food.

Brownback has not explicitly said he supports the bill, but his office said earlier this month that he is open to legislation that makes the state’s “tax code fairer, flatter and simpler.”

Other conservatives in the Kansas Legislature have advocated for a flat tax in recent weeks.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw