Lawmakers rolled back Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature tax policy over his objections Tuesday night, forcing into law tax increases to fix a budget shortfall and provide more money for schools.
The legislation ends the "march to zero" income tax cuts that Brownback heralded for much of his time as governor.
Income taxes will rise across the board but most tax rates will remain lower than they were before the 2012 tax cuts. The increases are expected to generate more than $1.2 billion for the state over the next two years.
The Senate and House voted 27-13 and 88-31, respectively, to override Brownback’s veto. The action took place on the 109th day of the legislative session and paves the way for lawmakers to wrap up their work quickly, potentially this week.
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The override represents a blow to the legacy of one of the most unpopular governors in America, amid speculation that he may not serve out his remaining time in office but instead take a federal position.
Brownback did not respond immediately to the override votes. The night before, he had said he would veto and issued a statement: "Senate Bill 30 is a $1.2 billion tax hike, making it the largest in state history. This is bad for Kansas and bad for the many Kansans who would have more of their hard-earned money taken from them.”
Lawmakers who supported the bill and the override said the 2012 policy was a mistake that had drained the state of revenue, leading to rounds of budget cuts and harming investments in roads and other priorities.
"It’s hard to celebrate because Kansas is in such shambles. The magnitude of the problems that we have to correct is so great," Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, said.
Kansas faces a projected budget shortfall of roughly $900 million over the next two years. Lawmakers also have approved hundreds of millions in new spending on schools, though Brownback has yet to take action on the legislation.
Those who sought to keep Brownback’s veto in place decried the decision to raise taxes without significant spending cuts. They said lower-income earners will face an additional burden because of higher taxes.
"Somehow the people of this state think we’re doing the right thing by imposing a billion dollars’ worth of taxes on them?" Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, asked. "This level of taxation is wholly unnecessary."
The bill replaces the state’s two-bracket income tax system with three brackets. Income up to $30,000 for married couples would be taxed at 3.1 percent, income between $30,000 and $60,000 would be taxed at 5.25 percent, and income above $60,000 would be taxed at 5.7 percent.
The bill also would repeal an exemption on certain business income that Brownback has championed.
The Senate voted to override first and gathered the exact number of votes needed. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who has opposed most tax plans this session, voted no.
In the House, Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican who has also voted against several tax plans, supported the override. Lawmakers did not appear aware before the vote what side he would support.
In the end, the House had four more votes than needed.
Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, voted against the tax plan during debate on Monday but supported the override. He said it had become evident to him that Brownback would reject whatever tax plan lawmakers approved.
"I look at this as bittersweet. I don’t like the bill. I hate the bill. But we have to move forward as a state," Hawkins said.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, said the Legislature should have acted earlier to roll back the 2012 tax cuts.
"We could’ve done it the easy way, but by God, now we’ve got to do it the hard way," Denning said. "We had the opportunities to do it. It was right in front of us."
Denning said he wasn’t voting to override to spite Brownback.
"I don’t want to be disrespectful to the governor. He still believes in this (the 2012 tax plan)," Denning said. "That’s OK. I don’t."
The Legislature passed Senate Bill 30 just after midnight on Tuesday. Brownback immediately promised to veto the bill and fulfilled his promise on Tuesday afternoon.
The tax plan was the first to pass the Legislature since February, when lawmakers passed a similar plan. Brownback also vetoed that bill, but the override effort fell three votes short in the Senate.
Lawmakers had been gridlocked over taxes since May, however. Various plans had failed, at one point because many House Democrats withheld their support because a plan wasn’t large enough.
Democrats supported the override on Tuesday. That, along with support from some conservative Republicans, was enough to take the bill over the line.
"We're moving back to the fiscally responsibly path that allows us to meet our core needs as a state," House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said.
Ward said the override was a repudiation of Brownback for being an "obstructionist" for much of the session.
"Tonight, we said 'enough is enough,'" Ward said. "We're moving on without you."
Rep. Larry Hibbard, R-Toronto, said some residents would feel taxed too much and others would feel that certain services weren’t funded enough. But the compromise was good, he said.
Hibbard said the state had become a national laughing stock for its recent fiscal troubles, including a tax system that allowed situations where "the employee was paying the taxes and the employer wasn’t."
"This tax bill starts us on the road to recovery," he said.
How they voted
Here’s how south-central Kansas senators voted to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of SB 30, a bill to undo much of Brownback’s 2012 tax plan. The Senate overrode the veto 27-13. The House overrode it 88-31.
Democrats voting yes: Oletha Faust-Goudeau, Lynn Rogers, Wichita
Republicans voting yes: Ed Berger, Hutchinson; Bruce Givens, El Dorado; Dan Kerschen, Garden Plain; Carolyn McGinn, Sedgwick; Richard Wilborn, McPherson
Republicans voting no: Mike Petersen, Gene Suellentrop, and Susan Wagle, Wichita; Ty Masterson, Andover; Larry Alley, Winfield.
Democrats voting yes: All area Democrats voted yes
Republicans voting yes: Roger Elliott, Daniel Hawkins, Greg Lakin, Wichita; Steven Becker, Buhler; Mary Martha Good, El Dorado; Anita Judd-Jenkins, Arkansas City; Don Schroeder, Hesston
Republicans voting no: Leo Delperdang,Susan Humphries, Brenda Landwehr, Les Osterman, Chuck Weber, John Whitmer, Wichita; Doug Blex, Independence; Jesse Burris, Mulvane; Blake Carpenter, Derby; Kyle Hoffman, Coldwater; Steve Huebert, Valley Center; Kristey Williams, Augusta
Republicans present: Joe Seiwert, Pretty Prairie
Not voting: Republicans Les Mason, McPherson, and Jack Thimesch, Cunningham