TOPEKA — A bleary-eyed House returned to business this morning after suspending action at midnight when Republicans and Democrats turned against a proposal raising state taxes by more than $400 million to close a revenue gap.
After two hours of straitjacket persuasion applied to representatives, the House leadership threw in the towel and let the bill go down in flames.
The final tally: 95-20.
Gov. Sam Brownback and GOP allies had resumed a hammer-and-anvil strategy to form a coalition of 63 votes on legislation approved by the Senate that would enact the largest tax increase in Kansas history.
The battle is among legislators who seek state government spending cuts, opponents of huge increases in state taxes and members who want to repeal all or part of Brownback's 2012 tax exemption for 330,000 businesses and reductions in individual income tax rates.
Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, struck the gavel at 8 a.m., still dozens of votes short of the minimum necessary. The chamber continued on a "call" of the House, after an unprecedented eight-hour break. Technically, Thursday morning was still Wednesday night in the House. The call process requires members to remain in their floor seats, unless temporarily excused, as the search goes on for the 10 representatives who have yet to vote.
In reality, the procedural delay created a window of opportunity to rally votes for and against the bill.
"We're still on a call of the House," Mast said. "Doormen keep the doors closed and we will return to business."
The central argument for the tax bill — on the 112th day of what was to have been a 90-day session — is that the alternative to the proposed increases in taxes would be implementation of state budget cuts of more than 6 percent.
It's unclear if the GOP-led executive or legislative branches would take such a step, but the possibility helped move Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, to announce a decision to switch his vote to "yes."
"I have the oath to keep up to the state of Kansas and I'm going to fund this budget," Schwab said. "I was part of the problem. I will be part of the solution."
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said Republicans shifting votes under pressure were betraying core beliefs.
Thirty-five representatives in the 125-member House signed anti-tax pledges promoted by Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Tax Reform, the group led by tax guru Grover Norquist. That list runs from Rep. John Alcala, D-Topeka, to Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta.
"The only thing worse than voting for the largest tax increase in history of Kansas is to flip flop and vote for the largest tax increase in Kansas history," Ward said.
At that point, Rep. Kyle Hoffman, R-Coldwater, decided to vote for the tax bill and Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane, affirmed his opposition.
"I believe in low taxes and limited government. Not, no government and no taxes," Hoffman said. "The time has come. It may not be pretty. It's time to fund the budget and go home."
DeGraaf said state lawmakers ought to curtail expenditures rather than elevate taxes of any kind.
"If we just went back to the spending policies of 2012, the budget would be balanced," he said. "The sky was not falling in 2012."
That left the House vote at 34-81 against the bill passed by the narrowest of margin — 21-17 — by the Senate. After a rules challenge to force an end to the call of the House, which failed, enough members agreed to give up the chase. That led more members to remove their support for the measure and resulted in the 20-95 margin.
The bill had one more supporter, but Rep. Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita, requested and received permission from House colleagues to switch his "yes" vote to "no" several hours after the roll had closed on the bill.