TOPEKA — House Democrats and moderate Republicans offered a one-word reply Friday to sales-tax-laden legislation offered by influential conservatives to fix the state’s lurking deficit of more than $400 million.
“Nooo,” they said in unison on a voice vote that echoed throughout the ornate House chamber.
Of course, the chorus was shared by hard-core fiscal conservatives who don’t want their fingerprints on any tax hike.
But a generous portion of the robust response came from legislators convinced resolving the deficit necessitated the retooling of supply-side business tax exemptions signed into law in 2012 by Gov. Sam Brownback.
Many “no” votes came from liberal-leaning lawmakers who have been bludgeoned by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and other groups for supporting a three-year, 1-cent hike in the sales tax in 2010. Ironically, Brownback led the charge in 2013 to make permanent that 6.3 percent rate.
The Republican-led Legislature and Brownback settled on a rate of 6.15 percent. Under the deficit-reduction bill dumped by the House, the basic rate would have climbed to 6.85 percent. The sales tax on food would have fallen to 5.9 percent.
“We see clearly the direction that the Republican Party chooses to go, and that is to put additional taxes on middle-class families and the working poor,” said House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City.
Rep. Tom Moxley, a Council Grove lawmaker among the GOP’s moderates, said another reason for opposition was the bill did nothing to reform income tax breaks approved by Brownback that concentrated much of the financial benefit on 5 percent of 330,000 eligible limited liability companies and other business entities.
“This is fishing with dynamite,” Moxley said. “The Democrats are never going to vote for any tax package. The moderate Republicans are not much different.”
The House rejected an amendment to place Kansas businesses back on the tax rolls to generate $134 million for the state treasury.
During debate, Democrats and moderate Republicans refrained from offering a long list of amendments or engaging in lengthy debate with their philosophical opposites. Their decision to sit on their hands reflected willingness to let the wounded bill from the House leadership fall by the wayside.
“A tax plan is very complex,” said Rep. Brandon Whipple, D-Wichita. “It should be put together as if it was done on purpose.”
The state government’s shortfall is estimated at $406 million in the fiscal year starting July 1.
Despite the break on food sales, more than two-thirds of $363 million that would have been raised by the House bill would have come from sales tax. The measure also would have dropped the state’s lowest income tax bracket from 2.7 percent to 2.55 percent and would have eliminated most personal income tax deductions.