UPDATE: Kansas Governor Sam Brownback Endorses Senate's Flat Tax Proposal
Editors Note: This story was updated at 5:05 p.m.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is endorsing a flat tax proposal that a Senate committee advanced this week. Legislative leaders had previously said Brownback would offer a new tax bill, but instead Brownback says he's willing to back the flat tax plan or something similar to it.
“My goal has always been to make Kansas the best state in America to raise a family and grow a business. A flat tax accomplishes this goal by making taxes fair for everyone and encouraging economic growth," said Brownback in a statement.
It would throw out the current 2.7 and 4.6 percent tax brackets and have all Kansans pay the same 4.6 percent income tax rate. The bill also changes tax deductions, lowers the sales tax on food and eliminates an income tax exemption for more than 330,000 business owners.
Brownback's willingness to accept a repeal of the business tax exemption is a marked change because he had previously defended that part of the 2012 tax cuts. Brownback has argued it boosts business growth and jobs in the state.
Republican Senate President Susan Wagle is glad to see movement on the issue of taxes.
“I’ve very pleased that the governor’s working with the legislature on a new proposal,” said Wagle. “We would love to be able to balance the budget quickly and have a short session and give certainty to all Kansas taxpayers.”
The proposal would raise around $650 million over two years. Deficits over that same time total around $1 billion.
If the plan makes progress, Wagle says they could also consider additional consumption taxes, which would include increasing alcohol and tobacco taxes.
The bill faces an uncertain future because it could face opposition from multiple groups. Conservative Republican Dennis Pyle would like to take a different path to address the budget deficit.
“It’s a tax increase. When are we going to address spending around this place?” Pyle said.
Some moderate Republicans and Democrats will oppose the plan because it hits middle- and lower-income families the hardest.
“It’s regressive and it doesn’t solve the problem. It would leave us with a huge deficit,” Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly said.
The full Senate will debate the flat tax plan Thursday.
Leaders in the Kansas Senate say Gov. Sam Brownback could provide them with a new tax proposal as soon as Wednesday afternoon. That would come just days before lawmakers are set to leave for a spring break
In a gathering of Senate Republicans, leaders said they’ve been in meetings negotiating with the governor on tax issues. Republican Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning said he didn’t have any information on what the governor might propose, but he’s glad the process is moving.
“Better late than never. I wish it would have happened two months ago, obviously,” Denning said. “He is the governor, if he has some input on a solution, I think he deserves to be heard.”
Some senators were clearly surprised by the news that Brownback may propose a new tax plan.
“To dive in at this point...I'm just puzzled,” Republican Sen. Julia Lynn said.
The proposal would not go to the full Senate for debate, leaders said, but would instead go to a conference committee made up of three negotiators from each the House and Senate. Republican Sen. Dennis Pyle said he’s not happy with that strategy.
“How can you represent the Senate when the Senate hasn’t had a full debate on it?” Pyle said.
Senate President Susan Wagle said they need to be flexible to find a way to eliminate a “tremendous budget shortfall.”
“The Senate can’t dig in and always have its way,” Wagle said. “It’s going to take compromise on the part of every elected official to resolve our differences and come to an agreement.”
Lawmakers are looking at ways to fill a budget hole that amounts to around $1 billion by the middle of 2019. Reversing some of the 2012 tax cuts or making other tax increases is one of the main options they’re considering.
Gov. Brownback’s office didn’t immediately respond to a question asking if he would release a new tax proposal, but Spokesperson Melika Willoughby did comment on Twitter.
“Gov. Brownback continues to discuss a variety of tax plans with legislators,” said Willoughby. “Gov. Brownback will continue to work with the Legislature until the budget is balanced.”
The Senate and House previously passed a tax bill, but Brownback vetoed it and there weren’t enough votes to override the veto.
Denning calls it a “highly remote” chance they’ll have a tax plan in place by the end of the week, when they leave for a three-week break. He says they’ll need to be ready to tackle tax and budget issues on May 1 when they return for the wrap-up session.