By John Celock
The Kansas House of Representatives voted Wednesday to override the Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) veto of legislation to raise income taxes in the state.
The House voted 85-40 to override Brownback’s veto of what has been described as the largest tax increase in state history. The legislation includes the rollback of Brownback’s 2012 signature tax cuts on business owners, a new 5.45 percent tax rate and the creation of a new third tax tier. The measure now heads to the state Senate.
“Rome is burning and our constituents expect the fire department to show up,” House Democratic Policy Chairman Adam Lusker (D-Pittsburg) said.
The override vote came after the vote originally stalled with 83 in favor with 84 needed to override Brownback’s veto, which was announced Tuesday night. Rep. Pete DeGraaf (R-Mulvane) originally became the 84th vote before switching his vote to no. Those in the House chamber tweeted that DeGraaf indicated his original vote was meant as a joke.
Following a series of speeches from the Democratic side calling for a lawmaker to switch from no to yes, House Education Committee Chairman Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) announced that while he did not favor tax hikes, he also believes in fair taxes and would be voting to override the governor.
“I guess I haven’t made enough people mad at me this week,” Aurand said.
Aurand was referencing his decision earlier this week to cancel an Education Committee meeting that was going to consider legislation that would reinstate mandatory due process rights for teachers statewide. The House on Tuesday placed the due process bill into another bill and passed it.
After Aurand cast the deciding vote, House Rules Committee Chairman Blaine Finch (R-Ottawa) also changed his vote from no to yes.
The voting came after a series of speeches explaining that the state needed to address the revenue shortfalls that have been occurring since 2012. House Taxation Committee Chairman Steven Johnson (R-Assaria) said that his committee explored a number of tax and revenue options for the state, including Brownback’s proposal for increases on consumption taxes. Johnson said that several of the options, including Brownback’s proposal for the securitization of the state’s tobacco fund and delays in pension system payments were not sustainable for the long term future of the state.
Johnson says that lawmakers need to address spending issues in the budget in order to handle state finances.
Rep. Tom Sawyer (D-Wichita), the ranking minority member of the Tax Committee, said that while opponents of the tax hikes are saying that the measure is “too far, too fast” he said the bill is needed based on the results of the tax cuts in 2012. He said that the 2012 tax bill was not what lawmakers had wanted to enact but rather was the result “of a game of chicken” by legislative leaders. He said that the revenue decreases since then result in the need for the current bill.
“One billion in one year,” Sawyer said of income tax collection declines after the tax cuts were enacted. “We went too far, too fast.”
In 2012, the House passed the tax cut bill following the Senate’s passage. Moderate Republicans who then controlled the Senate said they expected their passage would help to lead to compromise discussions on tax policy not a final House vote.
Sawyer also defended the retroactive nature of the tax hike, saying that it is needed to get more money to the state quickly rather than waiting until 2019. He also said that residents would have until April 2018 to pay the retroactive tax hike for January and February of this year.
Rep. Susie Swanson (R-Clay Center) said that she was approached by constituents at the bakery over the weekend asking if she had supported the tax bill in the original vote last week. She said they were supportive when she said she had voted yes.
Swanson said that lawmakers had been making annual fixes to the state’s revenues since 2012 and that a permanent fix was needed. She cited a 2015 hike in the state’s sales tax as a reason. She said that the sales tax hike has hurt working class Kansans, who income tax hike opponents said would be hurt by the tax bill.
“In 2015, this body raised the biggest tax in the history of the state. Who was that on? The working poor people are arguing about now,” Swanson said. “The people who buy diapers and tennis shoes and baby formula and pencils and papers for their children’s school supplies.”
House Democratic Agenda Chairman Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) said that his vote to override Brownback’s veto was his first ever vote to raise taxes. Whipple had originally voted against the tax hike bill last week. He said that he believed the bill was a way to fix the state’s revenue issues and he encouraged other lawmakers to vote for the bill and work together developing new fiscal policies.
Rep. Tom Cox (R-Shawnee), a freshman lawmaker, said that he knew that his vote to override could cost him reelection, but said that it is needed for the state.
“I love this job. I love this job more than anything I’ve done in my life. I’ve wanted to sit in this chair and do this job since I was 12 years old,” Cox said. “I realize that with this vote, my odds of coming back in two years will go down. The mess we have gotten in has gotten far greater. I did not enjoy this vote. I did not enjoy the fact that we had to increase taxes.”
Cox told his colleagues that if any of them received a primary challenge in 2018 for voting for the override he would be willing to campaign with them before campaigning for his own reelection.
Rep. Susan Humphries (R-Wichita) said that she found that the tax hike to be “too much, too soon.” She described her vote as “pragmatic” and that she wanted to address the state’s fiscal issues. She said her district did not want the hike, noting that they want a fairer tax structure implemented.
House Social Services Budget Committee Chairwoman Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) said that the tax bill was not enough for the state to balance the budget. She noted that there is little will to make more cuts to education or social services, the two largest areas of the budget.
Landwehr said that the bill would not cover the money needed to cover the new school finance formula that is presently being drafted. She said that lawmakers should address all tax issues at once and that an override now will require another tax hike bill this year.
“Are you prepared to make a second vote this session for a second tax increase?” Landwehr said. “Without another massive tax increase of $800 million we cannot fund K-12 or social services.”
Cox called on his colleagues to look past their own careers.
“This is more than about us. This more than about our positions and political careers,” he said. “This is about the people of Kansas.”