Senate kills Brownback’s tax plan; House says ball still in Senate’s court

The Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

? The Kansas Senate on Tuesday killed Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax proposal for balancing the state’s budget amid an exchange of charges and counter-charges between the governor’s office and Senate Republican leadership, each accusing the other of failing to offer solutions for the state’s looming budget crisis.

Brownback’s plan came to the floor of the Senate with virtually no support except from a handful of conservative Republicans. It called for raising alcohol and tobacco taxes, increasing filing fees on businesses and imposing tax on certain kinds of “passive” income such as rents and royalties to raise a little less than $400 million over the next two years.

But the state’s revenue shortfall over that period is projected at about $755 million, which means the state would have had to lower payments into the state pension system, delay payments to schools and sell off its interest in future tobacco settlement payments to make up the balance, things which most senators of both parties have said they oppose.

“Number one, it doesn’t raise enough money. Number two, I don’t think we’ve got much support for the tobacco taxes,” Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, said following a GOP caucus meeting earlier in the day. “It doesn’t fully close the loophole. There are a lot of things our members are concerned about.”

The Senate killed the bill through a highly unusual and lengthy set of procedures. They first divided the bill into different parts and voted down all but one part individually. Then when only one provision was left — increasing business filing fees — a motion was made to strike the bill’s enacting clause, a procedural move that effectively kills the legislation.

Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, was the only senator to vote against killing the bill, saying she thought it was important to keep the debate over tax issues going.

The move left the Senate without a clear plan for what to do next. Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, who chairs the Senate tax committee, has said she plans to appoint a subcommittee of possibly three senators to begin cobbling together another plan.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, meanwhile, blamed Brownback for refusing to negotiate with the Senate on a different plan after he vetoed a bill two weeks ago that would have reversed many of the income tax cuts that he championed in 2012, cuts that many lawmakers now blame for the state’s financial distress.

“We clearly asked the governor if he was going to veto the last plan that he work with us on a solution and give us a new plan,” Wagle said. “So far, he hasn’t given us any new proposals.”

But Brownback’s press secretary, Melika Willoughby, fired back later in the day by posting a statement on Twitter:

“President Wagle has repeatedly requested the governor cut K-12 education funding by approximately $100 million,” she said. “The governor believes such an allotment would be unwise, especially as the state continues to litigate the remedial phase of the Gannon (school finance) case.”

Meanwhile, Republican leaders in the Kansas House said Tuesday that they do not plan to work on another tax bill until the Senate produces one it can pass. That’s because the bill that Brownback vetoed Feb. 22 originated in the House, and the House voted to override the veto. The bill died when the Senate came up three votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for an override.

Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Asaria, who chairs the House tax committee, said House leaders want to see whether the Senate can pass a package that would include both tax increases and spending cuts.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, meanwhile, said Republicans should stop trying to find a package that Brownback will sign and focus instead on negotiating with his caucus on a package that can get a two-thirds majority in both chambers.

“Today’s debate on the Governor’s tax plan is just another exercise in futility and a clear indication the Senate President and Majority Leader (Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park) do not have a plan of their own,” he said in a statement released just before the Senate debate. “Until they realize that they need a bipartisan coalition of 27 votes to pass a tax plan, the political gridlock and games will continue.”