Kansas lawmakers will soon start a special session on tax cuts. Here’s what you can expect

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

The Kansas Statehouse is pictured in Topeka on Dec. 20, 2023, at SW 8th and SW Van Buren Streets.

Kansas lawmakers return to Topeka on June 18 for a special session on tax cuts as the state sits with billions of dollars in the bank.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is calling the special session after rejecting three different bills passed by the Republican-led Legislature that would have cut state income and property taxes. Kelly supports cuts but says she wants lawmakers to pass a bill that’s less costly for the state.

What exactly is a special session?

The typical Kansas legislative session runs from January to May. A “special” session basically means something came up outside of that timeframe that the Legislature needs or wants to address.

Special sessions can be called by the governor or a two-thirds vote of both chambers. Historically, they have been called by the governor in every case but one.

In this case, the governor called the special session so lawmakers could craft another tax plan that she finds acceptable.

Why couldn’t the governor and lawmakers reach a deal on tax cuts during the regular session?

There are two main reasons Kelly rejected each of the three plans passed by lawmakers this year: the total cost of each bill and proposed changes to state income taxes.

Republicans originally wanted to combine the state’s three income tax brackets into just one, which is often called a “flat tax.”

After Kelly rejected that plan, they pivoted to a two-tier proposal. Kelly ultimately rejected both bills with that proposal as well, saying they were too expensive and that she preferred to keep the state’s three income tax brackets.

“We have to come up with something that is sustainable over the long haul, or I just won’t sign it,” Kelly said in an interview. “We can keep coming back for special sessions. I don’t think they want that. I certainly don’t want that.”

Do lawmakers have to focus on tax cuts, or can they pass other kinds of bills?

Lawmakers don’t have to only consider tax-cutting bills. Kansas is different from some states like Missouri because legislators can pass any bill they can pass during the regular session.

Republican Senate President Ty Masterson was asked a few weeks ago if lawmakers might pursue bills related to gender-affirming health care or attracting the Kansas City Chiefs or Royals to Kansas. He said those bills might come up.

House Speaker Dan Hawkins later said he wanted to keep the focus narrow.

“This special session is for taxes. It’s absolutely not for all the wants that everybody has,” Hawkins said in an interview. “That’s what our general session is for. When we come back in January, they can bring those back.”

Republican Rep. Sean Tarwater, who sponsored the plan to attract pro sports teams to Kansas, says that’s the only bill unrelated to tax cuts that he could see passing this special session.

How common are special sessions?

There have only been 15 special sessions in Kansas since 1930, but they are becoming a more common occurrence in recent years.

Of those 15 sessions, five of them took place in the 2000s, including two during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The last was in 2021 and was the first one in the state’s history called by the Legislature rather than the governor. It was focused on the state’s response to certain federal mandates related to COVID-19.

How much will the special session cost the state? How long might it last?

The special session will cost taxpayers about $84,000 per day. On average, they last about 10 days, but there are some that have only lasted one to three days.

Leaders from both parties have also indicated that they would prefer a shorter session.

Kelly reiterated that she believes the session could end in a matter of days, depending on how quickly lawmakers pass a bill. Hawkins recently shared a similar sentiment, saying he hopes lawmakers can pass tax cuts within just one day.

Every single seat in the Legislature is up for grabs in November, so many rank-and-file lawmakers will be eager to get back on the campaign trail. That’s especially true because they’re prohibited from doing certain campaign activities while in session.

— Daniel Caudill reports for Kansas News Service.


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