TOPEKA — Five Republicans in the House voting in favor of the largest tax increase in state history Thursday violated anti-tax pledges made to a conservative political organization.
The bill adding $400 million to the tax load in Kansas was crushed 95-20 after prolonged debate that started Wednesday night and ended Thursday morning. In the Senate, the bill was adopted 21-17 with 14 GOP members in violation of promises made to Americans for Prosperity or Americans for Tax Reform.
Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, said her vote for the legislation was necessary to shield state government from deep budget cuts and to respect integrity of obligations of lawmakers to abide by the Kansas Constitution.
"We are required to have a balanced budget," she said, "and anything less than financing it is an unconstitutional act by this body."
Among 20 House votes in support of the tax-hike bill, Mast was the only representative in that camp signing both campaign pledges offered by these special-interest political groups.
Rep. John Doll, a Garden City Republican who voted against the bill, said promises legislators made to AFP and ATR should be acknowledged next year when Kansas go to the polls. He's filed for the Senate seat held by Sen. Larry Powell, R-Garden City.
"A lot of us signed a tax pledge that we will not raise taxes," Doll told colleagues on the House floor. "When we're running in 2016 ... I'd certainly bring it up in an election."
The four members signing the AFP pledge and endorsing the bill were Reps. Becky Hutchins, R-Holton; Rep. Jerry Lunn, R-Overland Park; House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell; and Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita.
Hours after the conclusion of voting on the tax bill, Rep. Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita, sought approval of colleagues in the chamber to flip his "yes" vote on the legislation to "no."
Rep. Kyle Hoffman, R-Coldwater, didn't seek similar cover.
"Today," he said, "I find myself voting to raise taxes. I do this because I believe that I was sent here to represent and govern. The time has come. It may not be pretty, and we may not like all the provisions, but it's time to fund the budget and go home."
A trio of tax-bill supporters, Reps. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, John Ewy, R-Jetmore, and Sue Boldra, R-Hays, submitted a joint written explanation of vote that expressed reservations about the bill but a willingness to compromise.
The administration of Gov. Sam Brownback warned failure to adopt a large state tax increase could result in 6.2 percent across-the-board budget cuts.
"Portions of the current bill are acceptable, but this is not the balanced approach I wanted," the statement said. "The legislative session has gone on long enough and Kansas needs an increased revenue stream to fund the budget. Further cuts or allotments are unacceptable as they endanger essential state and local services."