Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback told a small group of lawmakers during a closed-door meeting that it would be politically better for him if the Legislature overrode his veto and repealed tax cuts he advocated rather than present another plan for him to sign, according to three lawmakers who attended the meeting.
The meeting on the day the Kansas Legislature overrode Brownback’s veto of the tax bill helped persuade some conservative Republicans to vote to override the veto, The Kansas City Star reported.
Other lawmakers who attended the meeting disputed that interpretation of the governor’s remarks, and Brownback’s office neither denied nor confirmed the exchange.
“Governor Brownback worked with legislators throughout the session and proposed multiple and varied tax plans that did not unnecessarily harm Kansas families. Unfortunately, the legislature chose to go another way,” Melika Willoughby, Brownback’s spokeswoman, said in an email Thursday.
After Brownback vetoed a $1.2 billion tax increase that raised income tax rates and rescinded an exemption for business owners, Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, invited the governor to a meeting he called with moderates and conservatives. At the time, supporters of the tax increase didn’t have enough votes to override the veto.
Before the tax increase passed, the state faced projected budget shortfalls of almost $900 million over the next two fiscal years and a state Supreme Court order to improve state financing of education.
After about 15 minutes of discussion, Brownback was asked if he was “ready for the train that’s going to come rolling over him” if he didn’t sign the tax bill, Hawkins said.
“And that’s when the governor said, ‘You know something, I’m completely fine with that. It’s politically better for me to be run over by the train than it is to sign a tax bill,’” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said he interpreted the comment to mean the governor would never sign a tax bill. Rep. Erin Davis, an Olathe Republican, agreed with Hawkins’ interpretation of the discussion.
Davis and Hawkins both said the conversation helped them decide to vote for the override after initially opposing it.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican opposed to tax increases, said she didn’t recall Brownback saying it would be politically better “to roll him” but thought that he indicated it was “possible he could get rolled.”
Landwehr said her colleagues were trying to avoid responsibility for voting for the tax increase.
“I’m not going to put words in anyone’s mouth from that meeting. I’m responsible for my vote. Dan’s responsible for his vote,” she said.
Rep. Kristey Williams, an Augusta Republican, voted against the override but confirmed her colleagues’ account of Brownback’s remarks.
“He absolutely did say that. He 100 percent said that. And I’m the one who asked the question,” Williams said.
Reps. Don Schroeder of Hesston and Russ Jennings of Lakin, two moderates who supported the rollback effort, didn’t recall Brownback saying it would be politically better for him to be overridden but both men said lawmakers left the meeting convinced an override was necessary.