Topeka Private negotiations with top legislative Republicans about tax issues are “going well,” Gov. Sam Brownback said Monday, but he wouldn’t predict when party leaders might agree on a plan to cut income taxes further.
The Republican governor declined to discuss the details of what’s under consideration in his talks with Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ray Merrick, other than he planned to keep meeting with them. All three want to follow up on massive personal income tax reductions enacted last year, but the state must stabilize its budget, and Brownback has proposed canceling a decrease in the sales tax that is slated to happen in July.
Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said the differences between the two chambers have narrowed but declined to say exactly how. Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, spent much of the day in his Statehouse office in meetings and wasn’t available for comment.
The House and Senate took up little substantial business Monday as legislators waited for signs of progress from the private meetings on taxes.
“The discussions are going well,” Brownback told reporters. “Time’s always a difficult one to guess on, but they’re going to get to a solution.”
The Senate approved Brownback’s proposals to phase in another round of cuts in personal income tax rates over the next four years while keeping the sales tax at its current 6.3 percent rate. The House passed legislation to let the sales tax drop to 5.7 percent in July as planned, while making less aggressive income tax cuts.
Wagle, from Wichita, has predicted that legislators eventually will approve something close to the Senate’s legislation. Merrick, from Stilwell, has said there’s some room for compromise, but other GOP House members have said their chamber is unlikely to allow the sales tax to stay above 6 percent.
“I can guarantee that we have narrowed the gap,” Wagle said of the discussions over the sales tax rate. “I’d say the Senate has come down and the House has come up, so things are going well.”
Pressed for details, Wagle said: “I’m not going to give numbers.”
Brownback and GOP leaders argue that eventually phasing out personal income taxes will stimulate economic growth.
“There are different proposals that are being shopped back and forth,” Brownback said. “The pieces are well-known, and it’s just, how do you get them to fit together to make a budget and a pro-growth tax position?”
Democratic leaders aren’t party to the private tax talks, and their leaders have said they don’t expect any of them to vote for any compromise that emerges anyway. Democrats see last year’s income tax cuts as reckless and oppose the GOP’s goal of shifting most of the burden of funding state government to the sales tax, which consumes a greater percentage of the incomes of the poor than it does the wealthy.
And House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said private talks among top GOP leaders prevent the public from weighing in on proposals. Legislative leaders previously appointed three senators and three House members to resolve tax issues, and much of their discussions would occur in public meetings. But the appointed negotiators aren’t meeting.
Davis said in a statement that the private meetings “completely betray the democratic process”
Wagle noted that private talks involving the governor and legislative leaders are common on big issues as lawmakers near the end of their annual session.
Monday was the 80th day of the Republican-dominated Legislature’s annual session — the day GOP leaders previously had promised that lawmakers would finish their business for the year. Legislators typically schedule 90-day annual sessions, but this year, top Republicans planned to trim 10 days off the normal time in a show of efficiency.
Lawmakers are paid $89 a day in salary while they are in session, plus $123 to cover their daily expenses.