Topeka The Kansas House on Wednesday gave a loaded tax-cut package to Gov. Sam Brownback who said he could approve it despite projections that show the measure would produce record budget deficits.
"I am prepared to sign the bill, but I encourage Kansas legislators to continue their work on reforming our state’s tax policy and to consider some of the alternatives I proposed in my original pro-growth tax reform to off-set the cost," Brownback said in a press statement issued after bitter debates in the House and Senate.
The measure would reduce income, business, and sales taxes and produce a $2.7 billion budget shortfall in five years, according to an analysis by the Kansas Legislative Research Department.
Opponents said revenue reductions of that magnitude would destroy schools, social services and public safety.
"It would be very irresponsible," to sign the bill, Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said, "It would send our state to hell in a hand basket. It's a travesty."
A group of 55 former legislators — all Republicans — issued a statement denouncing House approval of the bill.
"Rarely do voters get an opportunity to see such a spectacular failure of leadership by their elected officials," said Rochelle Chronister who has served as assistant House majority leader and chair of the Kansas Republican Party.
Chronister added, “If Gov. Brownback allows this to become law, in just a few years, nearly half of the state general fund will need to be cut. To be clear, the state will go bankrupt, property and sales taxes will increase and critical services will be eliminated.”
How the bill made it to Brownback's desk produced heated debate during a day-long game of high-stakes legislative poker.
Brownback has made major tax cuts his No. 1 priority. But a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats have called for a smaller package of tax cuts.
On Wednesday, the Senate was scheduled to debate a plan recommended by a House-Senate conference committee that would reduce individual state income tax rates and phase out non-wage income taxes for nearly 200,000 businesses. It also would provide funds for local property tax relief and allow the state sales tax to decrease from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent as scheduled.
But a larger tax cut package was waiting in the wings. This was one that the Senate in March had killed but then moderate Republicans, after lobbying by Brownback, reversed course and voted for, simply to put a bill into the House-Senate tax conference committee so that negotiators could work on various proposals.
But before the Senate could start debate Wednesday on the House-Senate conference committee bill, Brownback urged House Republicans to concur with the larger tax cut bill that had been approved by the Senate.
That produced angry words during debate in the House from moderate Republicans and Democrats but the motion was approved 64-59 with only Republican votes. At one point, House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, cut off opponents who were trying to explain their vote.
Meanwhile, across the rotunda in the Senate, President Morris, supported by a 23-15 vote, shut down debate on the conference committee tax bill, a move that raised the ire of conservative Republicans.
Later, Morris said the conference committee could continue its work.
O'Neal said the House vote was necessary to get the Senate to eventually approve the tax conference committee bill.
Supporters of the bill say it will boost the economy and create jobs. "This is without question in my mind the biggest, impactful bill that we will have passed in a long, long time," said state Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, and chair of the Senate tax committee.
But critics of that bill, including independent tax study groups, say it is tilted toward the wealthy at the expense of low-income Kansans.