Topeka The Kansas Senate on Wednesday pulled a U-turn to drive the Legislature closer to cutting taxes, and Gov. Sam Brownback is ready to step on the gas.
“We are one step closer to hitting the accelerator on the emerging Kansas economy,” Brownback said. “The Senate took an important step towards growing the Kansas economy and creating new jobs.”
Democrats, however, said Brownback’s tax cutting plan was reckless and would hurt middle-class families and public schools.
Brownback’s praise came after Republican leaders in the Senate, in a stunning reversal, passed a tax bill just two hours after voting it down.
Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, voted against the tax measure, which initially stalled on a 20-20 vote, and then for it as it passed, 29-11.
“There was a lot of interest in making sure we had something to go to conference,” Morris said, referring to a House-Senate conference committee that will work on taxes. Asked whether Brownback, a Republican, leaned on senators to have the vote reconsidered, Morris declined to answer.
Sherriene Jones-Sontag, a spokeswoman for Brownback, said the governor and his staff spoke to several senators between the two votes.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Brownback “resorted to backdoor arm-twisting to get his tax plan through the Senate this morning.”
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said the Brownback-Senate tax plan was fiscally irresponsible.
“We can’t afford to begin restoring the hundreds of millions in cuts we’ve made to public schools if we’re bleeding $800 million a year in revenue for tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy. This puts us on a collision course with either devastating budget deficits or even more crippling budget cuts,” Davis said.
Brownback wants to cut the top state income tax rates and eliminate income taxes for 191,000 partnerships, sole proprietorships and other businesses. His plan would also do away with deductions and credits and keep in place the current 6.3 percent state sales tax.
But on Tuesday as the Senate worked on the plan, it voted to lower the state sales tax as currently scheduled to 5.7 percent on July 1, 2013, and put back in the deductions, such as mortgage interest and charitable contributions.
Supporters of Brownback said the opposition was trying to kill the governor’s plan through the amendments.
Initially, it looked like that happened. As the Senate reconvened Wednesday morning, all eight Senate Democrats and 12 of the Senate’s 32 Republicans, opposed the final product. State Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, voted against it, saying it “does not fund state government” because it would cut $3.7 billion over five years.
But later in the morning, Brungardt moved that the Senate reconsider the vote. Again, eight Democrats voted against the bill but were joined by only three Republicans. Nine Republicans switched their votes.
Senators also approved a bill to provide $180 million over the next four years to cities and counties to cut property taxes.
The House has approved a tax plan that contains some of Brownback’s proposal but added removal of the state sales tax on groceries, which would reduce revenue by more than $300 million per year.