TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Republican lawmakers in Kansas struggled Wednesday to find enough GOP votes to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's veto of a tax relief bill despite a strong push to save the measure from the state Republican Party.
The measure Kelly vetoed last week was designed to prevent individuals and businesses from paying more in state income taxes because of changes in federal tax laws at the end of 2017. Republican leaders made it their top priority this year and argue that failing to return the revenue "windfall" represents an unlegislated tax increase.
Kelly framed the bill as a return to a tax-cutting experiment under former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback that made Kansas nationally notorious because of the persistent budget woes that followed.
Republicans hold the two-thirds majorities in both chambers necessary to override a veto, but their leaders worry that too many GOP lawmakers will bolt, side with Democrats and vote against overriding the veto. Lawmakers who want to overturn Kelly's veto must act this week, before the Legislature starts its annual spring break.
The Kansas Republican Party launched a text-based petition this week to show support for an override and a Facebook ad criticizing Kelly, saying that in three months in office, she's already broken a campaign pledge not to raise taxes. GOP State Chairman Mike Kuckelman and Secretary Emily Wellman issued statements Wednesday calling for a veto override.
"As a taxpayer, I might not even understand that Kansas took additional taxes from me that was intended to go in my pocket," Kuckelman said during a telephone interview. "I don't think as a party, the Republican Party, we should stand by and allow that to happen."
However, it wasn't clear that the campaign would sway GOP holdouts. State Sen. John Skubal, a moderate Republican, said he was elected in his Kansas City-area district in 2016 to help "fix' state government.
"To do that, we have to have some money," he said.
Republican lawmakers slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging, but voters later turned on Brownback's policies because of the state's budget problems. Bipartisan legislative majorities repealed most of the tax cuts in 2017, and Kelly ran against Brownback's political legacy last year.
"My district supports the veto," said Rep. Jan Kessinger, another moderate Kansas City-area Republican, calling this year's tax bill "something Kansas can't afford right now."
Kelly's administration estimated that the bill would have cost the state $209 million during the budget year beginning in July, undercutting her plans to boost spending on public schools and expand Medicaid health coverage for the needy. Much of the taxpayer savings would have gone to corporations, particularly those with operations outside the U.S.
The governor's veto message said Kansas is recovering after being "on the brink of financial disaster" and this year's tax bill "would absolutely dismantle all the progress we've made."
Republicans who support the bill said it's unfair to paint it as a return to Brownback's policies.
Like other states, Kansas faced the issue of revising its income tax code because it is tied to the federal tax code. Changes in federal tax laws championed by President Donald Trump lowered rates but also included provisions that raised money for Kansas, in part by discouraging individual filers from claiming itemized deductions.
"It has zero to do with anything Gov. Brownback did when he was governor," Kuckelman said.
The bill vetoed by Kelly would have provided relief to taxpayers who have itemized on their state returns. It would have allowed them to keep itemizing even if they don't on their federal returns, something previously prohibited.
"The message is — it's universal — that Kansans do not want their taxes raised," said House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a Kansas City-area Republican.