Politics & Government

Kansas Senate President Wagle names herself chair of new tax committee she created

Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle
Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle Wichita

Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, who is weighing a run for U.S. Senate, has named herself the chair of a new tax committee she created to craft legislation aimed at lowering the tax bills of thousands of Kansas residents.

The new committee has all the same members as the Senate’s regular tax committee, except that Wagle has taken the place of the chairwoman, Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker.

“The unexpected windfall directly linked to the federal tax cuts belongs to taxpayers, not government,” Wagle said in a statement. “The sole purpose of this committee is to enact the necessary legislation that will provide relief to Kansas families and businesses, allowing them to fully benefit from the Trump tax cuts.

She added: “We want to enhance economic opportunity and increase our state’s competitiveness, not force an unintended tax increase onto hardworking Kansans.”

After the 2017 federal tax overhaul, some Kansans will owe additional state taxes this year because of differences between the state tax code and the federal tax code. In some cases, they will no longer be able to itemize their state taxes.

Kansas is expected to collect additional revenue because of the change. Republican lawmakers are pushing to change the state tax code so that Kansas doesn’t collect the revenue, which some call a windfall.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has cautioned against acting this year, saying it’s not yet known how much additional revenue will materialize.

In creating a new committee with the same members but installing herself as chair — a highly unusual move — Wagle has blunted Tyson’s ability to influence the windfall legislation.

Tyson said Wednesday that the tax committee she chairs — Assessment and Taxation — had expedited the process of considering the tax legislation as much as possible, including by holding informational hearings on the bill before it had been formally assigned to the committee.

Tyson also emphasized that the tax committee, which she chaired last year as well, had approved a similar bill in 2018. That bill has formed the basis for this year’s legislation.

“It absolutely makes no sense because the committee knows we were having hearings on the bill, legislation was going to be referred to the committee, we had people cued up to testify, yesterday — Tuesday. There was movement on it,” Tyson said. “It appears that she wants credit for moving that legislation because otherwise — I mean why would she do what she’s done?”

Still, Tyson said she supports legislation to adjust the tax code.

“If we get the legislation, that’s the big picture. It’s not about me, it about getting good policy for Kansas,” Tyson said.

Kelly has urged lawmakers to leave the tax code alone this year. She contends that the full impact of the Legislature’s 2017 rollback of Gov. Sam Brownback’s income tax cuts are not fully known and that Kansas has no financial margin for error should another recession occur.

“Our tax code has been on a roller coaster ride over the last few years, both at the state and federal levels,” Kelly said last week.

Wagle’s decision to create a committee and name herself chair comes as she decides whether to run for U.S. Senate. Sen. Pat Roberts has said he will not run for re-election in 2020.

So far, State Treasurer Jake LaTurner is the only declared candidate in the race, but others are considering a run. Speculation has also centered on U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former congressman from Wichita.

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