Brownback says he’d sign tax bill awaiting Kansas House vote

Kansas state Sen. Greg Smith, center, R-Overland Park, confers with Sens. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, and Ty Masterson, R-Andover, during the chamber's debate on a plan for raising taxes to close a budget shortfall, Sunday, June 7, 2015, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The plan raises sales and cigarette taxes. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Gov. Sam Brownback said Monday that he would sign a bill to balance Kansas’ next budget by boosting sales and cigarette taxes, building pressure on the House’s deeply divided GOP supermajority ahead of the chamber’s potential vote.

The measure was on the House’s agenda after the Senate approved it Sunday, 21-17, with Republicans who control the chamber overcoming their own sharp disagreements. House members also were feeling pressure because Monday was the 109th day of a legislative session that is now the longest in state history.

RELATED LINKS |Summary of latest tax plan | Results of Senate vote on tax plan

“Look, people have looked at 40, 50 iterations of a tax bill,” Brownback said during a Statehouse news conference. “It’s time to get this done; it’s past time.”

Rejection of the bill by the House would force legislative negotiators to draft a new plan for raising revenues to prevent a deficit arising from the $15.4 billion budget lawmakers have approved for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The state’s budget problems began after lawmakers slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging as an economic stimulus. The tax bill approved by the Senate would raise $423 million during the next fiscal year — more than enough to balance the budget — by increasing the state’s sales tax to 6.55 percent from 6.15 percent and raising the cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack to $1.29.

Republican leaders pushed the tax plan to Senate passage after negotiators for the two chambers added several sweeteners to proposals that senators had overwhelmingly rejected only the day before.

Kansas state Sens. Forrest Knox, left, R-Altoona, and Jeff Longbine, right, R-Emporia, confer during the Senate's debate over a plan for raising taxes to close a projected state budget shortfall, Sunday, June 7, 2015, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Among other things, the plan raises business taxes by $24 million during the fiscal year beginning July 1, the top amount Gov. Sam Brownback will accept. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
Kansas state Sens. Forrest Knox, left, R-Altoona, and Jeff Longbine, right, R-Emporia, confer during the Senate’s debate over a plan for raising taxes to close a projected state budget shortfall, Sunday, June 7, 2015, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Among other things, the plan raises business taxes by $24 million during the fiscal year beginning July 1, the top amount Gov. Sam Brownback will accept. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

“I think overall, it’s a pretty good sandwich,” said Republican Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, of Leavenworth. “I think we ought to get through this and get it down.”

The Senate also approved the bill containing most of the budget for the next fiscal year on a 23-11 vote. The House passed it last week, and it goes next to Brownback.

Republicans’ inability to resolve budget and tax issues had threatened to force the state to furlough thousands of workers next week. But lawmakers passed a bill to avert a partial government shutdown, Brownback signed it and the new law took effect Saturday night.

With furloughs averted and a state budget completed, the House’s vote on the tax plan would determine whether lawmakers would wrap up business Monday. But Republican Rep. Marvin Kleeb, of Overland Park, the House’s top tax policy negotiator, was skeptical of the bill’s chances in his chamber.

Besides increasing sales and cigarette taxes, the measure would raise $24 million during the next fiscal year by increasing taxes for business owners. More than 330,000 business owners and farmers don’t have to pay income taxes on their profits under a 2012 policy Brownback championed.

The governor has threatened to veto any plan that increases taxes for business owners by more than $24 million. But some House Republicans have pursued plans with lesser sales tax increases and greater tax increase for business owners, in defiance of Brownback’s veto threat.

In the Senate, Democrats argued that under the latest tax plan, poor and middle-class families were being asked to pay for income tax cuts for the wealthy through consumption tax increases. Some GOP conservatives didn’t think lawmakers were doing enough to curb spending.

“You can resist and work for better government and limited government,” said Sen. Dennis Pyle, a conservative Hiawatha Republican.

Each extra day of the Legislature’s annual session has cost the state more than $40,000. Lawmakers traditionally schedule their sessions to last 90 days, and the previous record of 107 days was set in 2002 — another year lawmakers increased taxes to close a budget gap.

 

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