- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 15, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislators learned Wednesday that they might have enough bipartisan support to pass a big income tax increase to balance the state’s budget, though Republican Gov. Sam Brownback said he would not sign the measure.

The GOP-controlled House gave first-round approval to a bill that would generate more than $1 billion in new revenues over two years, starting in July. It would raise income tax rates Brownback persuaded lawmakers to cut, restore a third tax bracket he had eliminated and end an exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners that he championed.

The governor told members of the National Federation of Independent Business in a Statehouse speech that the bill would be “a huge step backwards.” While he didn’t explicitly threaten a veto, he later told reporters, “Have I ever been for income tax increases?”

“This is not the way to go,” Brownback said.

The vote Wednesday was 83-39, one shy of a two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto by the governor, with three House members not voting. The margin surprised even the bill’s supporters.

The House plans to take a second, final vote on Thursday to determine whether the bill goes to the Senate, and it’s possible that support could slip overnight. Meanwhile, senators planned to debate a Democratic proposal on Thursday that would raise $1.2 billion over two years.

Legislators are likely to take additional votes on tax issues in coming weeks, and the final package could look quite different. But the vote Wednesday was notable because any proposal to raise taxes has faced strong resistance in the past, particularly income taxes.

“I don’t think we want to overtax our citizens, but I think everybody does know that we have a structural deficit,” said Rep. Shannon Francis, a Republican from Liberal.

Kansas faces budget shortfalls totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019. The state has experienced persistent financial problems since Republican lawmakers slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging.

Even some GOP voters concluded in last year’s elections that the tax-cutting experiment has been a bust as an economic stimulus: They ousted two dozen of Brownback’s conservative allies from the Legislature, giving GOP moderates and Democrats more power.

Brownback contends the state’s budget woes are tied to slumps in agriculture and energy production. He has proposed raising cigarette and liquor taxes and annual filing fees for for-profit businesses.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican who opposed the bill, said he’s been working with the governor’s office on a smaller tax plan containing some of Brownback’s ideas

And, echoing a sentiment among fellow conservatives, Republican Rep. Eric Smith, of Burlington said: “I want to see some spending cuts.”

In the House, the large tax increase would be coupled with another proposal designed to prevent a cut in aid to public schools. House members planned to debate that second measure Thursday, authorizing $317 million in internal government borrowing.

The gaps in the budget include a shortfall of about $320 million projected for June 30, and lawmakers do not believe they can raise new revenues before July.

Senate Republican leaders were pushing a budget-balancing plan last week that included an immediate cut in aid to the state’s 286 school districts of $128 million, or $279 per student. But they canceled a debate on it when support for the measure collapsed.

Under the House tax bill, personal income tax rates would rise for individuals with adjusted gross incomes of more than $15,000 and married couples earning more than $30,000. The top tax rate would increase to 5.45 percent from the current 4.6 percent.

Rep. Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat, said the vote advancing the bill was “a really good sign” and a strong message to Brownback that many legislators are “serious about fixing the problem that he’s caused.”


Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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