TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback pleaded with Republicans Thursday to take quick action to fill the state’s $400 million budget hole — warning he will have to make massive cuts by Monday without action.
The governor delivered the deadline message in a packed joint meeting of House and Senate GOP lawmakers hours after the House rejected legislation that would have amounted to the largest tax increase in state history.
The state budget director provided potential scenarios where Brownback could line-item veto the operating budgets of Kansas’ large public universities to balance the budget or implement across the board cuts in excess of 6 percent.
Line-item vetoes could be overridden by the Legislature, however.
The Legislature has already passed a budget but has not approved legislation to pay for it. According to the administration, even though the new fiscal year begins July 1, officials need to move forward soon on preparing to implement the budget — hence the need for either a revenue package or large cuts in the next few days.
The governor appealed to the Legislature’s constitutional duty to raise enough revenue to pay for the budget.
“The power of the purse is in your hands, and we all believe in the constitution. You’re the appropriations — and it says in the constitution if you pass this budget, you have to pass adequate revenue for this budget. You’ve passed a budget. It’s a good one. It’s not perfect, no bill’s perfect, but it’s a good budget,” Brownback said.
But Brownback gave no indication of bending on his administration’s veto threat that he will block any plan that raises taxes on businesses. The lack of changes to tax breaks for business owners in previous plans has driven some opponents in the House.
The governor told lawmakers they have two options: pass the bill that failed Thursday morning in the House, which largely leaves business taxes alone, or pass his plan, which shares many of the same components. He warned lawmakers against prolonging discussions.
“We’re at Day 112. We’re at Thursday, and by Monday you have to come up with something or then I have to execute one of these options that I have in front of me. So you don’t have a whole ton of time here to negotiate through a bunch of different policy options,” Brownback said.
“I’m pleading with you, really, to just one more time, just get in the saddle. Set aside, ‘Maybe I was right on this,’ or ‘You’re wrong on that, we should have done this, should have done that.’ We say, we just have to ride together; we’ve just got to get in formation, and we’ve got to get this done.”
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, had harsh words for how the Legislature had worked so far. Wagle noted the record-breaking length of the session, now the longest in Kansas history.
She said the lack of a revenue plan puts the state in financial insolvency.
With the Monday deadline looming, Wagle said the governing party, the Republicans, need to find consensus.
“It’s a crisis. We have not served Kansans well, and time is short,” Wagle said, adding: “I’ve voted for at least three plans. None of the plans, I didn’t like voting for any of the plans but for the greater good and for solving our financial situation, a number of us voted for all the plans.”
Following the doomsday presentation, the House and Senate were set to reconvene Thursday night in the hopes of grinding out a solution. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, had a short reaction to the GOP caucus presentations.
“I call it a threat-fest,” Hensley said.
The plan that failed in the House — and could be back for a second time Thursday night — was passed by the Senate on Sunday. It would increase the state sales tax from 6.15 percent to 6.55 percent, generating approximately $187 million. The tax on food would drop to 4.95 percent beginning in July 2016.
Additionally, nearly $97 million would be gained by reducing itemized deductions.
Taxes on cigarettes would increase by 50 cents to $1.29, along with a new tax on e-cigarettes. The plan also assumes $47 million is produced through new fees on managed care organizations, which is contained in different legislation.
Individual income tax rates would stay at 2.7 percent and 4.6 percent until tax year 2018, when the rates would drop by 0.1 percent. After that, further reductions would only be triggered by revenue growth in excess of 3 percent after additional funds go to pay state pensions and Medicaid caseloads.