Brownback pushes for tax cuts, denies heavy-handed pressuring

Topeka — Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday said he lobbied hard to advance legislation cutting income taxes but denied making political threats to get votes in the Senate.

Democratic leaders, who oppose the tax plan by Brownback, a Republican, said they heard differently.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Republicans who initially voted against Brownback “were threatened with all kinds of things.” He said the pressure was “real heavy-handed,” such as threatening to veto bills if the senators didn’t change their votes.

Asked if he or members of his administration had threatened legislators with holding up state projects in their districts or vetoing legislation that they wanted, Brownback said no.

“We were pushing every bit we could. And I have been for about two years pushing on tax reform. We’re not doing those things (threats), but we are pushing every bit we can,” he said.

Brownback has proposed a plan to reduce income tax rates and eliminate income taxes on nearly 200,000 businesses. His proposal would also keep in place the 6.3 percent state sales tax, which is set to decrease to 5.7 percent, and eliminate numerous tax deductions and credits aimed to help low-income Kansans.

Brownback says his plan will improve the economy. The business tax cut, he said, is “like shooting adrenaline in the heart of the growth possibilities of Kansas.”

But critics say the Brownback plan benefits mostly wealthy Kansans and businesses, at the expense of the poor and middle class, and will deprive the state of needed funds for schools and social services.

During debate Tuesday, the Senate put back into the bill the deductions and the scheduled sales tax decrease.

On Wednesday, all eight Democrats and 12 Republicans, including Senate GOP leaders, teamed up to kill the bill on a 20-20 vote.

But within two hours, Senate Republican leaders moved to reconsider the vote.

The bill then passed 29-11, Brownback hailed the decision, and now a House-Senate conference committee is scheduled to start negotiations Monday on a final tax cutting plan.

Hensley said the reversal in the Senate left him stunned.

Nine Republicans changed their votes including Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.

Morris said the Brownback administration wanted to get a bill into conference committee, but he declined to discuss what kind of pressure was put on legislators.

Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, spoke against the bill, but then made the motion for the Senate to re-vote on it.

Brungardt said he was convinced by Senate leaders, whom he said he respected, that the Senate needed to have a position for the conference committee.

Brungardt said he heard some of his colleagues had been in discussions with Brownback staffers and “felt like they were getting beat up a little bit.”

But Brungardt said he wasn’t one of them. Of the Brownback administration, he said, “They don’t even talk with me. They don’t even know my name.” Brungardt is one of a group of Republican senators who have been targeted by the Kansas Chamber and other Brownback supporters in the GOP primary in August.

Other Republican senators who switched their votes could not be reached for comment on Friday. The Legislature adjourned Wednesday evening until Monday.

Brownback said he would continue to push for the income tax cuts. “I believe strongly in tax reform. I think it’s important that we do it. And we’re going to keep pushing to move through fundamental tax reform.”

And, he said, he would like to see all tax proposals put together in a comprehensive bill.

On Friday, Brownback vetoed legislation that would have changed the procedure for distributing funds from the Kansas Oil and Gas Valuation Depletion Trust Fund.

Brownback said that while the policy of the legislation may have merit it should only be considered as part of a comprehensive budget and tax plan. Separately, a House proposed state budget relies on $5 million from the fund.

The vetoed bill was approved by the Senate, 40-0 and the House, 124-0.