TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators approved a bill early Tuesday morning that would roll back past income tax cuts championed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to fix the cash-strapped state’s budget after passing a plan for meeting a court mandate on education spending.
But Brownback announced immediately that he would veto the tax bill.
“It will substantially damage job creation and leave our citizens poorer in the future,” the conservative governor said in a statement.
The tax measure would raise $1.2 billion over two years by increasing income tax rates and ending an exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners. The votes were 26-14 in the Senate and 69-52 in the House.
Also headed to Brownback is a separate plan to phase in a $293 million increase in spending on public schools over two years. It creates a new per-pupil formula for distributing state dollars to ensure that more money goes to programs that help low-performing students and all-day kindergarten classes. The votes were 23-17 in the Senate and 67-55 in the House.
Legislators felt intense pressure to resolve their two biggest issues of the year because Monday was the 108th day of a legislative session that was supposed to last 100 days. This year’s session was already one of the longest in state history.
“We should close the gate before the cows get out,” said Sen. Dan Kerschen, a Wichita-area Republican.
The state faces projected budget shortfalls totaling $889 million through June 2019, and the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in March that the state’s $4 billion a year in aid to its 286 school districts is inadequate.
Brownback has not said what he would do with the school funding bill. Supporters did not have the two-thirds majorities necessary to override a veto on either bill in either chamber.
Conservative Republicans lambasted the proposed tax increase as damaging to the economy and argued that the state isn’t controlling its spending enough.
But Democrats and moderate Republicans said they were elected last year to end budget problems that have persisted since GOP lawmakers slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging.
“We’ve got to stop digging the hole,” said Democratic Rep. Tom Sawyer of Wichita. “We’ve got to fund our schools.”
Meanwhile, many legislators in both parties also were skeptical that the proposed increase in spending on schools would satisfy the Supreme Court.
The justices did not say exactly how much funding must increase when they set a June 30 deadline for lawmakers to pass a new school finance law. But attorneys for four school districts that sued the state in 2010 have said the increase needs to be much larger. Democrats have argued that the minimum is phasing in a $400 million increase over two years.
Democrats predicted the court will reject the plan and force lawmakers to have a special session to allow schools to open after June.
“It’s wrong to put our kids, schools and communities through that risk,” said Sen. Lynn Rogers, another Wichita Democrat.
Democrats and many GOP moderates also object to a proposal in the school funding plan that would expand a program giving income tax credits to corporations that donate money to private-school scholarships for students in poorly performing public schools. GOP conservatives created the program in 2014, and this year’s proposal would allow individuals and partnerships to claim the tax credit.
Some moderate Republicans overcame their misgivings about pieces of the plan because they believe it creates a fair formula for distributing aid even if the court decides the spending increase isn’t large enough.
“I would urge you to look at the big picture,” said Rep. Melissa Rooker, a moderate Kansas City-area Republican.
GOP leaders had previously combined the school funding plan with a smaller income tax increase in a single bill, gambling that the combination would help the tax increase pass. Instead, lawmakers from all camps heavily criticized the tactic, and the House voted 91-32 against the big package — forcing legislators to scramble and draft two separate bills.
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