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Rejection Of Tax Bill Could Send Kansas Lawmakers Into Overtime

Stephen Koranda
Senate President Susan Wagle presides over the tax debate Wednesday.

After several false starts, the Kansas Senate on Wednesday finally debated a tax bill.

But after a brief debate, Democrats and conservative Republicans voted for different reasons to reject the bill.

Two Democrats joined 16 moderate Republicans in voting for the bill, which failed 18-22.

The seven Democrats who voted against the measure said they feared it would not generate sufficient revenue to both balance the state budget and increase funding for public schools by enough to satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court.

Sen. Lynn Rogers, a Wichita Democrat, said like many new members, he ran for the Legislature to fix the budget problems triggered by the income tax cuts that Gov. Sam Brownback pushed through in 2012, when conservative Republicans were firmly in control.

“While this [bill] makes many of the right moves in that direction, it does not fix school funding,” Rogers said.

Fifteen conservative Republicans, including Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita, opposed raising taxes by more than $1 billion. They also objected to specifics of the plan, which would have effectively reversed Brownback’s income tax cuts by raising rates, restoring a third bracket and repealing a controversial business tax exemption.

Sen. Gene Suellentrop, a Wichita Republican, said any plan to balance the budget also should reduce the cost of government.

“There are some ways to lower that cost so that we do not have to take that much money from the citizens of Kansas,” Suellentrop said.

Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican, warned members that rejecting the plan likely would push the session into overtime.

“My constituents and other people I’ve talked to around Kansas have told me time and time and time again, ‘You know what the problem is, find the political courage to fix it.’ I think this is the fix,” Longbine said, noting that lawmakers were approaching the 100-day deadline they set for ending the session.

Earlier this session, the House and Senate approved a tax plan, but it was vetoed by Brownback, who has staunchly defended the 2012 tax cuts. The House voted to override the veto, but the Senate was a few votes short of the 27 needed for an override.

Longbine was clearly frustrated after Wednesday’s vote.

“I think we went backward today,” he said. “Politics got in the way of good policy.”

Before they go home, legislators must approve plans to erase a projected two-year budget hole of $900 million and increase funding for public schools in response to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that declared the state’s current formula unconstitutional.

Jim McLean is managing director of KMUW's Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics in Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @jmcleanks.