Kansas House members settled into their seats Wednesday afternoon braced for a lengthy debate on the budget.
It didn’t happen.
Instead, just a few minutes later, members gave a two-vote majority to a $6.4 billion budget that needs an additional $400 million to balance.
Rep. Mark Hutton, a Wichita Republican, said the 64-48 vote effectively sidelines attempts by House conservatives to balance the budget with spending cuts, though Senate leaders may still allow a vote on across-the-board cuts of approximately $350 million.
“We’ve just passed a budget that is going to force us to do some tax increases,” Hutton said.
Hutton is leading an effort to generate about one-quarter of what’s needed by partially reinstating income taxes on the profits of about 280,000 business owners and 50,000 farmers. Those taxes were eliminated by a 2012 law backed by Gov. Sam Brownback that reduced but didn’t eliminate individual income taxes.
“I don’t believe we can ask the people of Kansas to step up and pay higher sales taxes while we continue to allow some businesses to pay nothing.”- Rep. Mark Hutton, a Wichita Republican
So far, Republican legislative leaders and the governor have supported proposals that attempt to raise the bulk of the money needed through higher sales taxes. Hutton and others are holding out for what they call a more balanced package.
“It’s an equity issue,” Hutton said. “I don’t believe we can ask the people of Kansas to step up and pay higher sales taxes while we continue to allow some businesses to pay nothing.”
Brownback has threatened to veto any attempt to substantially roll back the business tax cuts, but Hutton appears to have the support of nearly half of the 97 Republicans in the 125-member House.
Even so, Rep. Marvin Kleeb, the leader of the House team negotiating a tax compromise with the Senate, said Hutton’s business tax proposal probably won’t be included in the first package sent to the floor for a vote.
“It’s a step-by-step process, and the best place to start is something that’s going to be real close to what the governor has indicated he’ll support and not veto,” Kleeb said. “That’s really where we should begin.”
Brownback recently proposed raising the statewide sales tax to 6.65 percent from the current 6.15 percent and increasing the cigarette tax by 50 cents, taking it from 79 cents to $1.29 a pack.