Topeka — Kansas Democrats succeeded Thursday in getting approval of $90 million in property tax reductions as Republicans jumped on board the plan after first turning up their noses at it.
"We cut $90 million in property taxes. That's a win-win for everybody," said state Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wiichita.
But any bi-partisan spirit quickly soured when several Republicans in the GOP-controlled House said the felt they had been tricked by Ward.
Ward offered his proposal as an amendment to a bill highly prized by Republicans — House Bill 2212, which would restrict property tax increases if overall property valuations increased.
During debate, House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe, told Republicans "to go ahead and vote for this amendment and provide that little bit of relief for local counties." Siegfried added, "The underlying bill will actually solve the problem of the creep in property taxes."
Republicans flocked to the proposal and the measure was approved 122-2.
But later, Republicans discovered that Ward's amendment was actually a "gut and go," meaning that it eliminated the underlying bill.
State Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, the sponsor of the underlying bill, wasn't happy about that. "You expect collegiality and forthrightness," Brunk said. "In this case, unfortunately that didn't happen."
When explaining his amendment to the House, Ward did not say it was a "gut and go." When asked why, Ward said because no one asked him.
"There was no trickery. I took the underlying bill out and replaced it with a clean vote on tax relief," Ward said.
He said veteran legislators, such as Brunk and Siegfreid, should have realized what his amendment did.
Brunk said legislators are expected to fully explain the substance of their amendments. Now the bill goes to the Senate for consideration.
The proposal would provide $45 million for each of the next two fiscal years to local governments for reductions in the local property tax rate. Douglas County would receive approximately $3.5 million in total.
"Property taxes have increased 65 percent over the last decade, while incomes have either remained stagnant or declined," said House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence. "We are pleased that House Republicans acknowledged the need to address the rising property tax crisis in Kansas,".
Just two days earlier, the Republican-controlled House defeated a plan by Democrats to provide $45 million in property tax relief.
What happens next on taxes is up in the air.
Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, and House GOP leaders have proposed differing plans on cutting state income taxes. Both proposals, however, would increase the tax liability for low-income Kansans. Critics of the plans also say they would limit revenues needed to provide essential state services.