Kansas legislature rolls back Brownback's tax cuts

Kansas legislature rolls back Brownback's tax cuts
© History Channel

Kansas legislators on Tuesday voted to raise taxes by more than a billion dollars, rolling back steep tax cuts signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback (R) five years ago that sank the state into a deep fiscal hole.

A bipartisan majority in the state Senate and state House voted to override Brownback's veto of a bill to raise taxes by $1.2 billion. 

The measure reverses many of the tax cuts that Brownback authorized in 2012, when the Republican-dominated legislature slashed taxes to the core. 

In the intervening years, Kansas has faced deep budget deficits and increasingly bitter fights between Brownback and the legislature — still controlled by Republicans — over how to close those budget holds.

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The bill passed by the legislature late Tuesday would increase costs on every Kansas family that pays income taxes. Even low-income earners would pay more under the new plan. Businesses will be required to pay more in taxes, but families would be able to claim a tax credit for child care, a provision eliminated under Brownback's 2012 tax cut plan.

Brownback called the bill the largest tax hike in Kansas history. In his veto message, issued earlier Tuesday, Brownback said he had moved the state toward "a pro-growth orientation."

"Unfortunately, Senate Bill 30 takes us backward in that effort. We can and we must balance our budget without negatively harming Kansas families," Brownback wrote.

The legislature's decision to raise taxes came five years after Brownback and the legislature, then dominated by conservatives, voted to roll back hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue. State tax collections dropped more than $700 million in the first year of the new scheme, according to the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 

Ratings agencies downgraded Kansas's bonds, forcing the state to pay more in borrowing costs. Funding for state school programs fell, and the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the state government was not adequately funding schools. Earlier this year, legislators grappled with a budget deficit of almost $900 million.

In 2016, voters kicked out a handful of anti-tax Republicans, in favor of challengers who backed higher taxes, despite Brownback's opposition. The legislature voted to hike taxes earlier this year, though they failed to overcome Brownback's veto.