In his 2012 State of the State address, Governor Brownback discussed a veritable cornucopia of weighty issues including tax reform, K-12 school finance, rising Medicaid costs, and the KPERS long term funding gap and outlined his ideas for working with the legislature to resolve them. Unfortunately, the political brawl between conservative and moderate Republicans has only intensified during the 2012 legislative session, with the result that very little has gotten accomplished this session. In an unprecedented move, the governor has publicly weighed in on the Senate redistricting process, further disrupting the legislative process.
For example, the current legislative logjam / ideological divide can be seen in the lack of progress concerning the governor’s signature tax reform proposal that focuses on gradually eliminating the state income tax. The plan lowers individual income tax rates for all Kansans by bringing the highest tax rate down from 6.45 percent to 4.9 percent, lowering the bottom tax bracket to 3 percent, and eliminating the middle bracket. It also would exempt from taxation non-wage income for so-called small businesses (all sub S corps, LLCs and sole proprietorships). The plan pays for the reduction in income tax revenue by eliminating personal income tax credits and the itemization of deductions. It also makes the temporary six-tenths of a cent sales tax increase passed by the 2010 Legislature permanent. The plan would also cap state revenue increases at 2% and use any additional revenues to buy down corresponding personal and corporate income tax cuts. The House ended passed a variation of the governor’s plan during the regular session.
The Kansas Senate decided to go in a different direction. Stating that “property taxes are the top concern shared with me when it comes to the state’s tax system,” Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton and a coalition of moderate senators worked to pass SB 409, a property tax relief bill that I originally introduced in the Senate Assessment and Taxation committee. The Senate-passed property tax relief bill currently sits buried in the House Tax committee, while the Governor’s tax plan is undergoing further negotiations in conference committee with no real end-game in sight.
The needs of the people continue to go unmet while the legislative theater continues. Following the 2010 elections that increased the Republican House majority, the Kansas Senate is the only remaining moderate entity in Kansas state government. With Koch Industries and the Kansas State Chamber of Commerce working in this election year to defeat the senate’s moderate Republican leadership team and the governor tacitly supporting their efforts, there is no reason for House leadership to reach agreement with their moderate Senate counterparts. Look for continued political battles but little else getting accomplished during the veto session.