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Top Kansas lawmakers rebuke Brownback over budget, taxes

Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, left, R-Overland Park, makes a point during a meeting on budget issues, as Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, listening to his right, Friday, June 30, 2017, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Top Republican legislators publicly dressed down GOP Gov. Sam Brownback during the meeting over his administration's criticism of an income tax increase enacted over his veto. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Republicans in the Kansas Legislature publicly dressed down GOP Gov. Sam Brownback and a top aide Friday over his administration’s efforts to stoke a political backlash against an income tax increase lawmakers enacted over his veto.

The legislators accused Brownback and administration officials of making misleading statements about the tax increase and the annual budgets they approved for the fiscal year that begins Saturday and the one beginning in July 2018. The tax increase will raise $1.2 billion over two years largely by rolling back past income tax reductions Brownback has championed.

Lawmakers raised taxes to help balance the budget and provide additional money for public schools. In recent days, Brownback and administration officials have publicly denounced the tax increase and suggested it fuels excessive spending, with aides pushing that message aggressively on social media.

“These statements coming out of the governor’s office are extremely inappropriate and do not reflect the work of the Legislature,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican.

The lawmakers vented during a meeting of the State Finance Council, which is made up of the governor and the top eight legislative leaders. The council authorized $900 million in internal borrowing over the next year, a financial shuffle of dollars into the state’s main bank account from other funds that’s been routine over the past 20 years and allows the state to pay bills on time when tax revenues are slow coming in.

Brownback participated in the meeting by phone while traveling but Shawn Sullivan, his budget director, was present to face lawmakers’ barbed questions. While House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, participated, most of the tongue-lashing came from the governor’s fellow Republicans.

Brownback defended the past income tax cuts, saying they created growth and that Kansas has just started recovering from slumps in agriculture and energy production, which he has blamed for the state’s ongoing budget woes. He said the budget contains spending that the state could have skipped in tight budget times.

“I’ve made my opinions known about what I don’t think we should be doing on tax policy,” Brownback said. “The Legislature has spoken on this, and we’ll move forward.”

Brownback and administration officials were harsher in their criticism in previous days, particularly on social media.

Brownback tweeted Monday that lawmakers made history this year “for all the wrong reasons” and that its budget legislation “spent every dime.” Top GOP lawmakers forced Sullivan to concede Friday that the legislation leaves the state with cash reserves at the end of June 2018.

The governor and administration officials have criticized legislators for increasing spending that’s not for education by roughly $200 million. He tweeted that the budget legislation financed a “wish list,” while his chief spokeswoman, Melika Willoughby, tweeted that lawmakers were “spend-happy.” Another aide, Ian Fury, tweeted that lawmakers raised taxes to pay for “pet projects.”

As of Friday evening, Brownback’s office had not produced a list of such projects or other objectionable spending. The Associated Press has requested one.

Top Republican lawmakers said much of the extra spending criticized by Brownback’s administration will go to pensions for public employees and raises for workers who haven’t had any in recent years.

Legislative leaders also showed their distrust of the administration by demanding a detailed report later this year from the Department of Administration on which state workers receive pay raises.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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