- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 7, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislators on Tuesday killed a bill containing proposals for higher cigarette and liquor taxes that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback offered as an alternative to fixing the state’s dire budget problems by rolling back past income tax cuts he has championed.

The GOP-controlled Senate voted 37-1 to reject the bill. Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, criticized the conservative governor before the debate for “refusing to give us solutions” but said afterward that the debate on the measure honored Brownback’s request for a full airing of his proposals.

Lawmakers in both parties have said Brownback’s proposals have little support, so the outcome in the Senate wasn’t surprising. Legislators are focusing so far on increasing income taxes to close projected budget shortfalls totaling more than $1 billion through June 2019.

Wagle faced criticism from both Democrats and conservative Republicans who saw Tuesday’s debate as political gamesmanship designed to send Brownback a message.

“It was a complete waste of time,” said Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka.

The state has struggled to balance is budget since GOP legislators slashed income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging. Even some Republicans concluded last year that the tax-cutting was a bust as an economic stimulus, and voters ousted two dozen of Brownback’s conservative allies from the Legislature, giving both Democrats and GOP moderates more power.

Legislators last month approved a bill that would have increased income taxes to raise more than $1 billion over two years, but Brownback vetoed it. Wagle said Tuesday’s vote showed lawmakers want “a real, structural fix” for the budget.

Before the debate, she told reporters: “If anybody’s playing games, it’s the governor.”

Brownback’s tax proposals would raise $393 million over two years, and he’s also advocating internal government borrowing, diverting highway funds and other accounting moves to tide the state over. He declined to respond Tuesday to Wagle’s criticism, except to say his proposals would leave the state with a “structurally balanced” budget without cutting aid to public schools.

“It’s a tough task,” he said.

The bill rejected by the Senate also contained Brownback’s proposal to increase annual filing fees paid by for profit businesses. It would have increased the state’s cigarette tax by $1 a pack, to $2.29, and a tax paid by consumers on beer, wine and liquor would have doubled to 16 percent.


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

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