Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature tax policy was saved by three votes on Wednesday when a divided Kansas Senate preserved his veto of a bill that would have increased income taxes and generated $1 billion over two years.
Lawmakers are left to contemplate a path forward to close a budget gap projected to be more than $1 billion through June 2019.
Senate leaders have called for patience as other options are weighed, but many lawmakers in the House remain committed to rolling back Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts, which they blame for the state’s fiscal hole. A compromise could take months.
The Senate vote capped off a dramatic day at the Kansas Capitol that began with Brownback’s veto. The Kansas House voted 85-40 to override the veto two hours later.
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But the Senate did not muster enough votes for an override. The 24-16 vote there fell three short of the two-thirds majority needed for an override after both Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, spoke against it.
HB 2178 would have eliminated a tax exemption that allows more than 330,000 business owners to pay zero state tax on their income. It also would have increased income taxes for many taxpayers and created a third tax bracket.
Brownback told reporters the state “ought to be going to fewer brackets, not more” after he signed his veto in the morning.
He celebrated the Senate’s vote to sustain that veto late Wednesday.
“This punitive, retroactive tax increase on Kansas workers and families would have cut Kansans’ pay almost immediately,” Brownback said in a statement. “We will continue to work with legislative leadership to develop a balanced budget. I encourage them to find savings in the state’s budget before asking Kansans to find savings in theirs.”
Sens. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, and Dinah Sykes, R-Republican, two moderates elected to the chamber in 2016, said they thought the override measure would have passed if Wagle and Denning had supported it.
“Yes, that’s my belief,” Bollier said. “But we will never know, because it didn’t (happen).”
Denning said he didn’t have any regrets about voting against the override. He criticized the provision of the bill that would have applied it retroactively to Jan. 1.
“I did everybody a favor, actually,” Denning said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, called out Denning on the Senate floor, saying the Republican leader told him that if the House were to override the veto, he would vote to override it.
“That’s plain fact,” Hensley said. “That’s what he told me. And now it appears that will not be the case.”
Denning said he wouldn’t comment on Hensley’s claim.
“A private meeting, and with all the changes that happen from day to day, I’m not going to comment,” Denning said. “It’s inappropriate for Robert’s Rules to call any senator out by name.”
Wagle called the debate productive but disagreed that she and Denning were the deciding factor in the vote.
She also indicated that legislative leaders may not partner with Brownback in crafting a solution, noting that they asked him to provide a new proposal before he vetoed the bill and did not receive one.
“I do believe the Senate and the House will have to come up with a plan to fix the budget,” Wagle said.
Pressed on whether that meant she was looking for veto-proof majorities, Wagle said, “I believe that’s what’s going to happen.”
She later issued a statement calling for a “holistic approach” to the deficit that includes spending cuts and revenue increases.
Some House members remain committed to the plan the governor vetoed.
“We should keep trying something similar until we get one that sticks,” said Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita.
Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, said the House should remain steadfast and continue to push for the legislation, which she said represents the will of the people, even if that means the session lasts for months.
“We’re in here as long as it takes for the Senate and the second floor to realize this problem needs to be fixed,” Clayton said, referencing the floor in the Capitol that houses the governor’s office. “The House is already well aware of that.”
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, predicted the legislation will reappear as the session moves forward. “All this does is slow down the session for a couple of weeks,” he said.
“Everything’s going to be chaotic for a while,” Ward said. “There’s going to be a lot of different things said, different bills proposed … but at the end of the day, you’re going to see a plan substantially similar to what was rejected by an obstructionist governor and his followers in the Senate.”
Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said after the veto override failed that “now we have nothing.”
She predicted that Senate leadership would use this to justify a budget bill that significantly cuts public schools. “I think they’ll concoct something that won’t work and will not be progressive, and they’ll try to ram that down our throats,” Kelly said.
Some lawmakers are unlikely to support any tax increase.
“It’s the old adage of the taxpayer versus. tax receiver,” Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, said after the vote. “And I think the taxpayers won on this one.”
A consensus solution could prove elusive, Bollier said.
“People like me are probably pretty dug into their position,” Bollier said. “So when others aren’t willing to compromise, probably I won’t be willing to compromise, at least not at this point, because, as they’ve said, we have plenty of time. So let’s take our time.”
How they voted
Here’s how area lawmakers voted on an override of the governor’s veto of HB 2178, which sought to increase income taxes. The override passed in the House on a vote of 85-40 but failed in the Senate on a vote of 24-16.
Democrats voting yes: All south-central Kansas Democrats
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
Democrats voting yes: All south-central Kansas Democrats
Republicans voting yes: Ed Berger, Hutchinson; Bruce Givens, El Dorado; Dan Kerschen, Garden Plain; Carolyn McGinn, Sedgwick
Republicans voting no: Mike Petersen, Gene Suellentrop, Susan Wagle, Wichita; Ty Masterson, Andover; Richard Wilborn, McPherson; Larry Alley, Winfield
Contributing: Associated Press