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Kansas Lawmakers Override Brownback’s Veto And Roll Back 2012 Tax Cuts

Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Kansas News Service
Kansas legislators voted Tuesday night to override a veto by Gov. Sam Brownback of a $1.2 billion tax increase. Sen. Gene Suellentrop, a Wichita Republican, urged colleagues to pass on their votes until Senate President Susan Wagle cast her vote.

Kansas lawmakers have charted a change of course when it comes to tax policy. Both the House and Senate voted Tuesday night to override a veto from Gov. Sam Brownback and roll back many of the 2012 tax cuts. That means the tax increase--which totals $1.2 billion over two years--will become law despite Brownback’s objection.

In the Kansas Senate, the override split Republican leaders. President Susan Wagle voted no, but Majority Leader Jim Denning voted yes. Denning supported the tax cuts in 2012, but after wrestling with budget shortfalls, he said it’s time for a change.

“I don’t want to be disrespectful to the governor,” Denning said. “He still be believes in this. That’s OK. I don’t.”

The override is a blow to Gov. Brownback, who has defended the tax cuts. Brownback initially vetoed the rollback Tuesday because he said the tax hike would hurt Kansas families.

“We can and we must balance our budget without negatively harming Kansas families,” Brownback said in a statement.

Democratic Sen. Tom Holland wasn’t convinced and voted to override Brownback’s veto.

“Where’s the common sense? We should have got off the crazy train a long time ago,” Holland said.

But the vote was far from unanimous.

“This level of taxation is wholly unnecessary,” said Republican Sen. Ty Masterson of Andover.

Masterson was one of the conservatives who fought the override. Lawmakers face a budget shortfall totaling nearly $900 million over two years, but Masterson said they could have reduced that with cuts.

“What we’re doing is fleecing our constituents on the false premise that it must be done,” Masterson said.

How they voted in the House
How they voted in the Senate

Kansas will now reinstate a 3rd income tax bracket and raise income tax rates, but not as high as they were before the 2012 tax cuts. Gone will be the income tax exemption for more than 300,000 business owners.

The Senate vote was a squeaker: It passed with the bare minimum of 27 supporters.

Things were not quite as tight the House. Supporters of an override needed 84 votes, but after Republican House Speaker Ron Ryckman voted to override, he brought several other conservative Republicans with him. The 88 yes votes included Republican Dan Hawkins.

“When our speaker hit 'green' right away he was trying to send a message to this whole body that he’s leading, come on and get it done," Hawkins said. "I couldn’t let him do it alone."

Ryckman didn’t speak to reporters after the vote, but some of the people he got on board, like Hawkins, are conservatives who do not like the idea of a tax increase.

“I look at this as bittersweet," Hawkins said. "I don’t like the bill. I hate the bill, but we have to move forward as a state."

Republican Chuck Weber, another conservative, was disappointed by the House speaker’s vote.

“I don’t know how you can be a conservative and vote for a tax plan like this. I think what you do is you vote no on a $1.2 billion tax plan like this and you live to fight another day,” Weber said.

Critics of the plan, like Weber, said the tax bill won’t be a long-term fix for the budget.

“State government does not know how to live within our means. The more money you give government, the more we’re going to spend, and we’re going to get hungrier,” Weber said.

Moderate-leaning Republican Stephanie Clayton said this isn’t the end of their work. There may be more tax and budget tweaks ahead.

“That reality does need to be faced. But have we turned things around and are we headed in the right direction? Yes. This was a major, major step tonight,” Clayton said.

Democrats also played a critical role in the House veto override. Leader Jim Ward had urged his caucus to vote against other plans, but this time Democrats were yes votes.

“It was time to end the tax experiment and move forward with fiscal responsibility," Ward said. "While you don’t get everything you want in a bill, this was a very good first step."

The tax increase will stabilize the coming two-year budget and increase funding for schools, which lawmakers approved in response to a Supreme Court ruling. Even after the veto override, the session is not over. Lawmakers still need to finalize some budget work.

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.