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Passage Of Tax Bill May Pave Way For End Of Session

Stephen Koranda

The Kansas House narrowly passed a tax bill around 4 a.m. this morning after an overnight debate. The chamber had previously rejected several tax proposals. As KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports, the bill’s passage may pave the way for the end of the 2015 legislative session.

Yesterday started with a loss in the Kansas House. A tax bill that would have filled the state’s $400 million budget hole failed badly.

But there was soon added pressure from Gov. Sam Brownback asking lawmakers to get the job done on taxes and end the session.

“I’m not the appropriator. They’re the ones, this is the power of the purse, and with it comes that responsibility,” Brownback says.

Brownback then turned up the heat even more. His administration said no tax bill would mean big state budget cuts, or possibly even a veto of the Kansas higher education budget.

When the tax debate started in the House, Republican Rep. Marvin Kleeb pointed out that the state had made significant tax cuts in 2012.

“Maybe it was just a little bit too much, but I don’t know whether we should apologize for giving tax relief and letting hardworking Kansans keep their dollars,” Kleeb says.

The plan increases the state sales tax rate from 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent. It also reduces tax deductions, slows some personal income tax cuts and raises the cigarette tax by 50 cents per pack.

“I don’t like this bill at all, but I’ll support it,” says Republican Rep. Rick Billinger.

The fear of higher education cuts made him support the bill.

“We’re charged with doing a job here, and it’s not an easy job when it comes to raising taxes, but time’s ran out. I don’t want to gamble that our colleges, our regents, get cut,” Billinger says.

The bill includes some provisions aimed at attracting conservative Republicans who opposed other tax plans. It includes $50 million in additional budget cuts and a limit on the growth of state government spending.

“Tonight, you showed Kansas in the toughest of moments you would stand up," says Rep. Kasha Kelley, a conservative who voted in favor of the bill. "There’s been no other way that anyone has come forth to fix this."

The opponents of the bill say there were other options. Republican Stephanie Clayton says this plan doesn’t address underlying issues. She thinks they should have revisited the 2012 tax cuts and not gone into legislative overtime.

“Kansans do not deserve Band-Aid solutions. Kansans deserve a legislature that gets the job done, gets it done on time and gets it done correctly," Clayton says. "That did not happen tonight."

The bill reverses a small part of the 2012 tax cut for businesses, but thousands of business owners will still pay zero income tax under the plan. That bothers Democratic Rep. Boog Highberger.

“I think this tax break is very unusual, in that almost no one I talk to who benefits from it wants it. They think it’s unfair,” Highberger says.

The plan has some provisions benefitting low-income Kansans, but Democratic Rep. Jim Ward says the sales tax increase still hurts Kansans who don’t make that much money.

“It puts a huge, massive tax increase on the backs of the littlest guy in the state,” Ward says.

In the end, the bill was approved on a 63-45 vote.

This bill passing the House was a huge hurdle. It’s not a sure thing in the Kansas Senate, but a similar measure has already passed that chamber. If the Senate approves this House tax plan today, it will end the 2015 legislative session, the longest session in Kansas State history.

Stephen Koranda is the managing editor of the Kansas News Service, based at KCUR. He has nearly 20 years of experience in public media as a reporter and editor.