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Kansas House Advances Tax Increase, Governor Says He Opposes It

Stephen Koranda
Kansas Public Radio
Republican Rep. Steven Johnson speaking to reporters Wednesday.

Members of the Kansas House took a step Wednesday towards repealing parts of the 2012 tax cuts championed by Gov. Sam Brownback. The governor quickly responded, saying he would not sign the bill into law.

The House gave preliminary approval to the tax increase with a vote of 83 to 39, one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto from the governor.

The proposal is aimed at helping the state erase budget deficits that total around $1 billion by the middle of 2019. The bill would raise income tax rates, reinstate a third income tax bracket and repeal an income tax exemption for more than 300,000 business owners.

Dozens of Republicans and most Democrats supported the bill, including Democrat Barbara Ballard.

“It is a start. I think people will look at it and say ‘they’re working. The people that ran and said they were going to try to solve the problem, they are trying to solve the problem,’” Ballard says.

The chairman of the House tax committee, Republican Steven Johnson, says the vote shows what type of taxes House members are interested in pursuing.

“It sends a message that the direction we’re looking at is a change to income tax. We’ll keep working on those rates so that folks can know what to plan on as soon as we can have it nailed down,” Johnson says.

Republican Rep. Scott Schwab opposes the plan, saying the bill increases taxes too much and too fast.

“There are a lot of complaints that we cut too quick, and those are viable arguments. But you can raise [taxes] too quickly too, and that’s pretty aggressive. There’s no step into that, and it’s retroactive,” Schwab says.

Not long after the bill passed, Gov. Brownback blasted the proposal. He has strongly defended the tax cuts, saying they’ve helped business growth in the state. He calls the tax bill a step backwards.

“I am opposed to broad-based rate increases on income taxes. I won’t sign that," Brownback says. “It’s going against the trend of everywhere in the country, if not in the world.”

Republican House Speaker Ron Ryckman voted against the plan because he’s in the early stages of crafting an alternate plan.

“We’ve been working on something with the governor that doesn’t raise quite as much revenue and it does have some more commonalities on some of the things he’s wanting to see,” Ryckman says.

The question now is whether supporters of the bill start to drop off in the face of opposition from the governor? If the bill passes a final House vote on Thursday, it will head to the Senate for consideration.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Radio covering health, education and politics.