© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Brownback Pleads With GOP Lawmakers To Close Ranks On Tax Plan

Andy Marso
Heartland Health Monitor
Senate President Susan Wagle joins Gov. Sam Brownback and House Speaker Ray Merrick during a joint caucus of House and Senate Republicans on Thursday at the Capitol.

Addressing a rare joint caucus of the House and Senate Republican supermajorities, Gov. Sam Brownback pleaded with his partisan colleagues Thursday to pass a tax increase that he can accept to fill what’s left of an $800 million structural deficit in the state budget.

Thursday was Day 112 of the traditionally 90-day session. Lawmakers set a record every day the session continues. 

Brownback and administration officials said if a tax plan to fund the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 is not on the books by Monday, he will have to make unilateral budget cuts.

“It’s just time to do it,” Brownback said. “Push the green light and move forward, because we’ve just got to get this done. I plead with you to do that.”

The governor told Republicans that their best two options were to either find a way to pass the tax plan that squeaked through the Senate on Sunday or take up and pass a plan he introduced the week before that.

Neither chamber has considered the governor’s plan, but the House rejected something close to it last week. It also defeated the Senate-passed plan 95-20 on Thursday, even after House leaders kept the voting rolls open for hours over two days and employed the governor’s help in trying to sway votes.

Brownback choked up Thursday as he talked about calling House members from the hospital, where he was visiting his newborn granddaughter, to try to convince them to vote for the plan.

“It was hard,” he said.

Department of Administration Secretary Jim Clark and Budget Director Shawn Sullivan also attended the caucus to communicate the urgency of the situation.

Clark, whose agency is responsible for entering all the new payment data when the fiscal year changes, said it would need to start no later than Monday to get everything in place by July 1.

Sullivan said that means if the Legislature does not quickly come to agreement on a tax plan, the governor’s office will have to find a way to shoehorn the budget legislators already passed into a tax structure that is still about $400 million short.

He said that could mean line-item vetoes of expenditures in that budget bill, and he specifically singled out the state’s six public universities.

Sullivan said the governor also could approve the budget bill in its entirety and then immediately make across-the-board spending cuts that would affect state hospitals and state agencies that deal with health and disability issues. 

He said only “horrible” options were available to the administration if lawmakers don’t pass a tax bill.

Senate President Susan Wagle echoed Brownback’s plea, saying Republicans must prove they can govern.

“It’s a crisis,” she said. “Time is short, and we have not served Kansans well.”

But House Republicans, both conservatives and moderates, said Brownback’s speech didn’t sway them.

“Not one iota,” said Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Republican from Mulvane.

DeGraaf said he remains dead-set against new taxes. He said the Legislature still has time to make budget cuts and can do so better than the governor’s office. 

After the caucus, DeGraaf was huddled with a couple other legislators who believe government is ripe for cuts.

Rep. Don Hineman, a Republican from Dighton, said the governor did not do enough to appeal to moderate Republicans who want to revisit the 2012 income tax cuts that Brownback championed, which they say are to blame for the budget crisis.

Brownback has threatened to veto substantial changes to the tax cuts, including any attempt to reinstate tax on the profits of more than 3330,000 Kansas business owners and farmers.

“I didn’t detect any change in his stance on what would be acceptable and what would be unacceptable to him in a tax plan,” Hineman said.

Hineman told reporters moderates were readying their own tax offering, but it would be “premature” to unveil it and subject it to scrutiny Thursday afternoon.

“I think there is pressure for the House to accept the (Senate’s) tax plan,” he said. “I’m not convinced that’s the only option available. I’m hoping for something better.”

As Hineman finished talking with reporters, Rep. Russ Jennings, a moderate Republican from Lakin, tapped him on the shoulder to alert him to a meeting that was starting elsewhere in the Capitol, presumably a work session on the moderates’ tax plan.

Andy Marso is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make non-profit journalism available for everyone.