TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback said this afternoon that he looks forward to signing a massive tax-cutting bill now that the Senate has sent a milder tax reduction bill back to a committee for more negotiation.
Brownback said he is disappointed that the Senate didn’t debate and vote on the alternative bill as the legislature nears the end of a grueling session that has run about a week longer than expected.
“I look forward to signing the bill on my desk and I call on legislators to finalize their work on the budget based on the enactment of Senate Sub. for HB 2117,” he said. “The legislative session needs to conclude.”
But it quickly became clear that conservative Republicans aren’t interested in more negotiation after months of pushing for tax reform.
St. Marys Republican Rep. Richard Carlson, who has represented the House in negotiations, said he doesn’t plan to negotiate more and he encouraged Brownback to sign the bill on his desk today. Brownback said he will announce a bill signing ceremony sometime next week.
The bill on Brownback’s desk cuts individual income tax rates and eliminates the tax on profits earned by about 191,000 companies in the state. The bill, which Brownback had said he will sign if an alternative doesn’t reach his desk, would force the state to make hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to services in coming years if it doesn’t generate enough economic growth to replace the lost income tax revenue with sales and property tax money generated by new jobs and new residents.
Democrats and moderate Republicans doubt that’s possible, and they’ve called the bill irresponsible.
Wichita Republican Sen. Les Donovan, who has been at the center of the tax debate for months, said he felt the altnerative plan was responsible and would benefit all Kansans. He also said he thinks Brownback should not sign the other bill because of the impact on the state budget.
“This is a sad day in the history of this chamber and this state,” he said.
Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, was among 21 moderate Republicans and Democrats to vote in favor of reopening negotiations.
“We are asking for a responsible tax package that addresses the concerns of a large majority of Kansans while leaving room in the budget to restore cuts to classrooms and public safety, he said in a statement. “If we do not show good faith and restore cuts to education, the courts may certainly require us to add money to education this summer.”
Topeka Democrat Sen. Laura Kelly referenced projections that show even the alternative tax plan could cause deficits, despite initial projections that showed it would leave the state with a surplus through 2018. New projections produced for lawmakers exclude about $350 million in projected savings as a result of Medicaid reform and add money for increased education funding.
With those factors combined, the alternative plan would cause a budget shortfall of $42 million in 2015 that grows to $1.5 billion by 2018. (Read more about that here.)
The Senate approved that plan in a 29-11 vote in March after initially voting 20-20 to kill it. Several senators said they only changed their vote after Brownback’s administration pleaded with them to approve the bill so that the Senate would have a position to negotiate from in a committee wtih House members who had approved their own tax-cutting plan.
But when the House heard the Senate would kill a negotiated plan that emerged, it quickly voted the deficit-inducing proposal out and sent it to Brownback, who said he would sign it if a new proposal didn’t emerge.
Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick and chairwoman of Senate Ways and Means, said that lawmakers will have to make significant budget cuts if Brownback signs the bill. McGinn said she initially voted for the bill to start negotiations with the House. She said she hopes the House will reopen negotiations on a more responsible plan.
A group of former Republican lawmakers, called Traditional Republicans for Common Sense, immediately urged Brownback to veto the bill.
“The governor has taken us to the financial cliff and only he has the ability to stop us from going over,” said former Assistant Majority Leader and former chairwoman of the Republican Party Rochelle Chronister. “This is not a game. The magnitude of this bill cannot be overstated and the impact that it will have on our communities and schools will be real and unforgiving.”