TOPEKA — Despair about the tax-and-budget impasse overwhelming the Capitol exacted a toll on Gov. Sam Brownback.
Brownback apparently choked up in a private meeting with House Republicans who sought an audience with the state’s chief executive to talk about a possible compromise to close a $400 million deficit and protect core government functions.
The governor already slashed spending at select agencies by 4 percent and withdrew funding from the state’s highway system to deal with a shortfall in the current fiscal year. He’s pushed for significant increases in consumption taxes on general sales, cigarettes and liquor to address next year’s deficit.
“He got emotional,” said a legislator in attendance who viewed the governor’s disposition as evidence of his passion for Kansans. “He was eager for us to come together as a party.”
“Making more cuts? He said that was really difficult to do before,” said another lawmaker speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Legislature’s session moved into the 111th day Wednesday — a record in Kansas. The annual session is scheduled for 90 days, and the 21 days of overtime have cost state taxpayers nearly $900,000.
The House and Senate were maneuvering late Wednesday to vote on compromise legislation that might end the six-month session.
Legislators at Tuesday’s closed meeting said Brownback expressed anxiety about potential of the House and Senate departing Topeka without a deal, leaving the GOP governor to order across-the-board cuts in excess of 6 percent.
Brownback also made reference, legislators said, to backlash he faced when out in the public. In March, for example, he was booed by fans at the NCAA Tournament game in Omaha between the University of Kansas and Wichita State University.
The governor’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment about private meetings with lawmakers.
The $15 billion budget sent by legislators to the governor falls approximately $400 million shy of balancing. The state experienced revenue shortfalls in wake of income tax reductions imposed at Brownback’s urging.
Drama in the Statehouse evoked passion among legislators, including Sen. Les Donovan, the Wichita Republican. In a fit of frustration, he asked Senate President Susan Wagle to replace him as the Senate’s top tax negotiator.
“I’m sick of it,” Donovan said. “We ought to be ashamed. I am ashamed. I’m ashamed to be associated with a group that won’t act any better than this. This is crazy. Absolutely stupid.”
On Wednesday, GOP House members huddled behind closed doors to produce a deal after two consecutive days of inaction by Senate and House negotiators.
A coalition led by Rep. Mark Hutton, R-Wichita, sought to apply the state income tax to 330,000 Kansas companies given an income tax exemption in 2012. Hutton’s group of about 25 legislators met with Brownback.
Brownback has portrayed the law eliminating state taxes on limited liability companies and other business entities, and reducing individual income tax rates, as cornerstone of his supply-side program to invigorate the state’s economy.
Nick Jordan, secretary of the Kansas Department of Revenue, previously issued a veto threat to lawmakers if they sought more than the narrow $24 million tax hike on business owners already in the bill.
The Senate narrowly approved Sunday a bill implementing $423 million in tax increases in the fiscal year starting July 1. Combined with a $47 million health industry tax already sent to the governor, the Senate package would bring $470 million into the treasury and cover the deficit.
The measure approved by the Senate contained policy provisions, including limits on city and county property tax increases and expansion of tax breaks for private school scholarships, that raised alarm among some House members.
Shawn Sullivan, the governor’s budget director, said the administration could be compelled to enact across-the-board spending cuts of 6.2 percent if lawmakers were unable to adopt a revenue plan. The Kansas State Department of Education estimated K-12 spending would take a $197 million hit.