Government & Politics

Kansas House kills tax ‘windfall’ brought about by Trump cuts

The Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.
The Kansas Statehouse in Topeka. File

Some argued it would be a shadow tax increase.

Others said it would return Kansas to the fiscal calamity of Sam Brownback's tax cuts.

That division derailed a tax bill Friday that would have cost the state an estimated $194 million in revenue over the next three years, if lawmakers had returned what was dubbed a windfall to Kansas taxpayers.

"There were good things in that bill, but there were things in it that — there was just so much uncertainty," said Rep. Jim Karleskint, R-Tonganoxie, a key moderate no vote on the bill. "I just didn't feel like I could vote for it in good conscience."

After passing the Senate on a 21-19 vote early Friday, the measure failed in the House on a 59-59 vote.

Even those in support admitted that there was a lack of clarity and fiscal certainty with the bill, which was approved in the final hours of the 2018 legislative session.

"We probably ought to pass this bill," House Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, said before the debate. "Even though it has things in it that none of us like."

The bill, brought about by federal tax changes passed by Congress, would have allowed Kansans to itemize deductions on their state taxes even if they don’t itemize their federal taxes.

The measure also includes business tax breaks, though it was unclear how much money the state would forgo.

"Thank God those who ran against irresponsible tax cuts stood up and did right by the state of Kansas," said Rep. Brett Parker, D-Overland Park. "The adults in the room prevailed."

Conservatives in the Legislature have pushed for returning the windfall of money tied to the federal tax measures to Kansas taxpayers.

“This is for your average taxpayer, your mom and pop,” said Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker.

“It is unexpected money,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita. “And it is a tax increase if we don’t pass this.”

With Friday looming as the end of the session, time was short to get the bill passed.

"I think there are people in this Legislature that haven't seen a tax increase they don't like," Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, said after he voted in favor of the bill that failed.

But some Republicans and Democrats were worried about the bill. Despite a positive ending balance in the budget this year, lawmakers remain concerned about the state’s financial situation and the state Supreme Court's pending decision on a new school funding formula.

"I think it's irresponsible," said Sen. Dinah Sykes, R-Lenexa. "It could wait until we get back in January and we have a better picture."

Less than a year ago, the GOP-controlled Legislature approved a tax increase and then overrode then-Gov. Brownback’s veto in a bipartisan push to end revenue shortfalls and budget cuts that followed the governor’s 2012 tax cuts.

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said during the Senate debate that the bill would “blow up” the budget that lawmakers sent to Gov. Jeff Colyer’s desk Thursday.

"I was so concerned that we were going to dig a bigger hole to the problems we already have," Holland said after the House rejected the tax bill. "We dodged the bullet."

The Wichita Eagle's Jonathan Shorman contributed to this article.

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