In a flurry of statehouse drama rarely seen, Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed the monumental tax bill last Wednesday morning. Within a couple hours, the House overrode the veto, and that afternoon the Senate narrowly sustained the governor.
In the end, Brownback had obstructed the will of legislative majorities and struck down the best legislative work Kansans have seen for many years.
A bipartisan legislative coalition had crafted and passed a tax bill that responsively addressed the billion-dollar financial crisis confronting state government. The bill would have ended Brownback’s failed tax experiment that exempted many businesses from income taxes. It also would have revised income tax rates mostly upward, though rates would still be lower for all income categories compared to rates in place during the years 1992-2012.
The tax bill deserved a sustained, standing applause, not the governor’s veto. Many share credit for the Legislature’s quick, decisive action:
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▪ Last August and November attentive Kansas voters elected state lawmakers dedicated to cleaning up the state’s financial mess.
▪ House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, and Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, both of whom have been part of the problem for the past four years, correctly read the shifting political climate this year. Even though neither leader voted for the final bill or the override, they made correcting state finance the first order of business, allowed open and timely consideration of options.
▪ House Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, and Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, stood up and spoke courageously on behalf of centrist Republicans who were willing to face the state’s grim fiscal reality and vote for increased taxes. Minority leaders Jim Ward, D-Wichita, and Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, deserve a hand as well for convincing their members to support a good bill, rather than holding out for a perfect one.
▪ 85 house members and 24 senators – 60 Republicans and 49 Democrats – made fixing the state’s financial mess a higher priority than political maneuvering for their next elections.
But the governor remains mired in an ideological stew that has produced five years of unbalanced budgets, unfair tax increases, and historic levels of new debt. Yet he continues to call for more of the same – more debt through one-time fixes and tax hikes on consumers.
The governor’s obstruction assures a more contentious, protracted, and likely chaotic legislative session. However, a fresh crew of legislative leaders and legislators has shown the resolve to tackle the state’s financial mess – either with or without the governor’s support.
H. Edward Flentje is a professor emeritus at Wichita State University.