Government & Politics

Lawmakers argue again with Brownback, agree to allow Kansas to borrow $900 million

During Friday’s State Finance Council meeting, lawmakers took issue with the Brownback administration’s recent response to the Legislature’s budget and tax plans.
During Friday’s State Finance Council meeting, lawmakers took issue with the Brownback administration’s recent response to the Legislature’s budget and tax plans.

Gov. Sam Brownback and leading Kansas lawmakers continued to clash Friday over new income tax increases as they agreed to borrow $900 million to help make it through the upcoming fiscal year.

The State Finance Council, which features Republican and Democratic leaders from the Kansas House and Senate, challenged Brownback during a meeting Friday over his administration’s rhetoric in recent days as public infighting among Kansas Republicans continues over the Legislature’s decision to roll back Brownback’s prized economic policy.

The meeting comes around the time new tax increases take effect in Kansas. Some conservative Republicans have lambasted the increases, while other lawmakers have defended their decision to raise taxes in an effort to mend the state’s financial health.

Those tax increases are expected to raise more than $1.2 billion for the state over two years.

During Friday’s finance council meeting, lawmakers took issue with the Brownback administration’s recent statements on the Legislature’s budget and tax plans, including a recent op-ed from Brownback’s revenue secretary, Sam Williams, and other statements made by the governor and other Brownback officials.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, and Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, were the first lawmakers Friday to question state Budget Director Shawn Sullivan about the Brownback administration’s recent statements denouncing the new tax plan and criticizing the budget.

“I think these statements that have been coming out of the governor’s office are extremely inappropriate and do not reflect the work of the Legislature,” Wagle said.

In response to the disapproval from lawmakers, Brownback referred back to his budget proposal, which was thoroughly criticized by lawmakers in January. He also criticized the new budget but failed to give specifics on his issues with the plan.

“I’ve made my opinions known about what I don’t think we should be doing on tax policy,” Brownback said. The “Legislature has spoken on this, and we’ll move forward.”

Brownback did not appear in person at the meeting but instead spoke to lawmakers on speakerphone.

“This legislative session made history, but for all the wrong reasons,” Brownback said in a June statement after the session ended. “Passing the largest tax hike in state history, this legislature passed the biggest budget in state history — and they’ve already spent every dime.”

Following the tax increase, the state is projected to have positive ending balances in the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, according to a state budget profile.

House Majority Leader Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican who voted for the tax plan, said lawmakers took the approach that “we needed to get our fiscal house in order.”

“I totally understand what it means when someone increases debt and considers liquidating assets,” Hineman said to Brownback during the meeting. “That’s really a sign of desperation. It means your fiscal house is in such disarray that you’re starting to shut down and you’re grasping at straws. And that was the option you gave to us in January.”

The council also voted Friday in favor of a certificate of indebtedness that helps the state’s budget situation as revenue ebbs and flows throughout the fiscal year.

The decision, agreed to on a 7-1 vote by the State Finance Council, allows the state to essentially borrow idle funds from itself to make it through the tight times of a budget year.

Last year’s certificate was also $900 million as the state faced continued budget struggles. That certificate was paid off before the end of June, according to Sullivan.

The Star’s Bryan Lowry contributed to this report.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw