Kansas Lawmakers Punt Taxes To Six Person Group


By John Celock

The Kansas House of Representatives narrowly voted Friday morning to send the drafting of the state’s new tax plan to a six-person conference committee.

The House voted 64-54 to pass a narrow tax bill in order to start a conference committee process in an attempt to end the tax standoff that has pressed the state Legislature nine days past the constitutional 90-day annual legislative session. The conference committee was sought by legislative leaders in an attempt to prevent a series of tax related amendments from being debated on the House floor.

“We don’t need to come here with a plethora of amendments on the floor,” House Taxation Committee Chairman Marvin Kleeb (R-Overland Park) told his colleagues Friday. “It is not even practical. We’re looking for $300 to $350 million that needs to be raised.”

Kleeb said the concept of having amendments on the House floor could “take days” to process, with the need for new revenue estimates that need to be devised. A straight up or down vote on a conference committee tax plan would also avoid lawmakers from offering “gotcha amendments” in an attempt to force votes on politically harmful areas of tax policy. These amendments are also known as “postcard votes” in Topeka, in an attempt to force a vote that would influence an attack mail piece in the next election.

The House vote came after an over hour-long negotiation session among lawmakers in an attempt to avoid a series of amendment votes on Friday. The Friday vote came a day after the House voted down a procedural motion to proceed to a tax debate, forcing the Friday vote.

On Wednesday, the Kansas Senate voted down a tax plan, following a series of amendments.

Kansas lawmakers are struggling to patch a multimillion-dollar budget hole, stemming from income and business tax cuts enacted in 2012. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has proposed to fill the gap by delaying several of the income tax cuts from taking effect, along with raising taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, along with taking money from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund and transferring it to the general fund.

Among the issues being considered by lawmakers is rolling back the zero income tax for LLCs and S Corps in the state, along with raising the state’s sales tax. The issue has caused divides among the Republican majority, with many seeking to keep the business tax cuts in place, or avoid a retroactive tax hike on businesses.

Lawmakers have not adopted a budget plan – which remains in a conference committee pending the adoption of a tax plan.

The delay Friday was also compounded by a change in the language relating to making the state’s rural opportunity zone program permanent. The new language would not extend the program to Miami County. The Celock Report has learned that Miami County was being removed due to objections from Johnson County lawmakers over the fact that neighboring Miami County was quickly becoming an extension of the Kansas City suburbs and not a rural area. Concern was expressed over those working in Johnson County moving to Miami County in an effort to pay less in taxes.

The conference committee plan will allow the full 125 member House and 40 member Senate to take up or down votes on the plan crafted by the committee, but no floor amendments can be offered. The tax conference committee will likely consist of the top members of the House and Senate tax panels, with four Republicans and two Democrats constituting the committee.

The conference committee process has come under attack this year by several in the House, who are saying that the full House is abdicating their duties to a small group. Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) has long led the fight on the House floor against the panels, arguing that full debate and amendments should be allowed on a variety of bills in the House.

Kleeb defended the conference committee plan on Friday.

“The system still provides for everyone to have their input,” he said.