Politics & Government

Kansas House overrides Brownback tax veto

Gov. Sam Brownback at a veto-signing ceremony on Feb. 22, 2017, in the Kansas Statehouse.
Gov. Sam Brownback at a veto-signing ceremony on Feb. 22, 2017, in the Kansas Statehouse. The Wichita Eagle

The Kansas House on Wednesday overrode Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a plan to increase income taxes by one vote more than the minimum needed.

The bill would roll back key parts of Brownback’s 2012 income tax cuts, raising rates for many taxpayers, restoring a third tax bracket and ending a tax exemption for roughly 330,000 business owners.

The override originally got 82 votes, short of the 84 needed. But Reps. Bradley Ralph, R-Dodge City; Clay Aurand, R-Belleville; and Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, in that order, decided to vote yes. The final vote was 85-40.

House Tax Committee Chairman Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Assaria, said the Legislature had few good options but that the plan would be a step toward a structural fix for the state’s fiscal woes.

“None of them are good. But we have a starting point,” Johnson said. “Think of the path forward.

“I look forward … to making sure the disasters of our budget problems are problems of our yesterdays and not of our tomorrows,” Johnson said. “Let us start here. Let us start together. Let us start today.”

Other lawmakers urged their colleagues to override the governor’s veto before the vote.

“Rome is burning, and our constituents expect the fire department to show up,” said Rep. Adam Lusker, D-Frontenac. “This is the first firetruck to show up.”

Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, said he didn’t think it was fair that some Kansans don’t have to pay income taxes on business income.

“We made a mistake in 2012,” Sawyer said. “The time has come to correct the plan.

“It is important that we get our house in order,” he added.

Rep. Tom Cox, R-Shawnee, said the override was about more than ideology.

“I did not enjoy this vote,” Cox said. “I thought about the future of this state.”

Rep. Brandon Whipple, D-Wichita, was one of the few Democrats to vote against the bill last week. He voted in favor of the override.

“Don’t let the governor at a press conference or … on stage last night try to dictate to this House,” Whipple said. “Work with us to fix this.”

Lawmakers opposed to the bill said the Legislature should go back to the drawing board.

“It’s too much, too soon on our taxpayers,” said Rep. Chuck Weber, R-Wichita. “I think we can do better.

“This is a massive tax hike on low- and middle-income Kansans … who are already facing significant headwinds,” he added.

Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, also said the Legislature can craft a better plan.

“The people in my district don’t want to pay more taxes,” she said.

The bill would eliminate the exemption on nonwage income for pass-through businesses, a key part of Brownback’s tax changes. The exemption was a target for many Democrats and some Republicans during the 2016 campaign.

The plan adds a third bracket and increases rates for the middle bracket. For married people filing jointly, income between $30,001 and $100,000 would be taxed at 5.25 percent, up from 4.6 percent. The top rate, for income above $100,000, would be taxed at 5.45 percent. The tax rate for the bottom bracket would remain 2.7 percent.

Brownback announced he would veto the bill at the annual dinner of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

“It was a group that I’ve worked with, that I think is keenly interested in growing the economy of the state, which is what our tax package has been about,” Brownback said later. “Here’s a group that understands that perspective.”

Brownback officially vetoed the bill at a ceremony Wednesday morning. He said few other states are considering a large income tax increase like Kansas. The bill would raise about $590 million next fiscal year and $454 million in the 2019 fiscal year, according to state figures.

“The whole trend line is away from taxes on production and it’s onto taxes on consumption,” Brownback said. “That’s the trendline.”

Brownback said he talked with Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, about how to move forward from the veto.

“I’m willing to work with them on adjustments to this plan or another plan,” Brownback said.

Brownback said he was opposed to retroactive tax increases going back to this January.

“Many people struggle paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “You’re now going back and taking more money out of their paycheck.”

Brownback would not say whether he would approve a plan with a third tax bracket.

“I don’t like a third tax bracket,” Brownback said. “I think we ought to be going to fewer tax brackets, not more.”

The bill was approved last week 76-48 in the House and 22-18 in the Senate.

Americans for Prosperity, a consistent supporter of Brownback’s tax policies, sought to discourage the Senate from making what it called the “same mistake.”

“Those who voted for this historic tax increase will be held accountable,” state director Jeff Glendening said in a statement. “I hope those in the Senate will think twice before casting a vote against the will of Kansas tax-payers.”

How they voted

Here’s how south-central Kansas lawmakers voted on the override of Gov. Sam Brownback's veto of HB 2178. The override was successful in the House, 85-40.

Democrats voting yes: All south-central Kansas Democrats voted yes.

Republicans voting yes: Roger Elliott, Wichita; Steven Becker, Buhler; Mary Martha Good, El Dorado; Anita Judd-Jenkins, Arkansas City; Don Schroeder, Hesston

Republicans voting no: Leo Delperdang, Daniel Hawkins, Susan Humphries, Greg Lakin, Brenda Landwehr, Les Osterman, Chuck Weber, John Whitmer, Wichita; Doug Blex, Independence; Blake Carpenter, Derby; Pete DeGraaf, Mulvane; Kyle Hoffman, Coldwater; Steve Huebert, Valley Center; Les Mason, McPherson; Joe Seiwert, Pretty Prairie; Jack Thimesch, Cunningham; Kristey Williams, Augusta

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar

Related stories from Wichita Eagle