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Republicans push tax relief through Kansas Legislature

In this Saturday, May 4, 2019, photo Kansas House Taxation Committee Chairman Steven Johnson, right, R-Assaria, confers with House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., R-Olathe, ahead of a debate over a Republican income tax relief bill at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The tax bill is designed to prevent individuals and businesses from paying more in taxes to the state because of changes in federal tax laws. Photo: AP/John Hanna
In this Saturday, May 4, 2019, photo Kansas House Taxation Committee Chairman Steven Johnson, right, R-Assaria, confers with House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., R-Olathe, ahead of a debate over a Republican income tax relief bill at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The tax bill is designed to prevent individuals and businesses from paying more in taxes to the state because of changes in federal tax laws.

May 05, 2019 10:06 AM

Republican legislators have pushed a tax relief proposal through the Kansas Legislature, ignoring predictions from Gov. Laura Kelly's fellow Democrats that she will veto it, just as she did with a larger plan.

The House voted 83-41 late Saturday night to approve a bill designed to offer relief to individuals and businesses that have been paying more in state income taxes because of changes in federal tax laws at the end of 2017. The House's vote came two days after the Senate approved it, so the measure is headed to Kelly's desk. Republican leaders in the GOP-controlled Legislature appeared to have the two-thirds majorities necessary in both chambers to override a veto, something they couldn't say with the first tax bill.

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"Kansas should not take more of their money based on something the federal government did," said House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a conservative Kansas City-area Republican. "It's the people's money."

The bill would save taxpayers roughly $90 million during the budget year beginning in July and about $240 million over three years. It's less than half the size of a GOP tax relief plan that Kelly vetoed in late March, partly because it doesn't attempt to make its changes apply retroactively.

Kelly issued a statement early Sunday calling for a comprehensive review of the state's tax system. Her staff would say only that she will review the measure.

Kelly likewise refused to say beforehand that she would veto the first tax bill. But she criticized that measure as a return to a tax-cutting experiment under former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback that made Kansas nationally notorious because of persistent budget woes that followed.

Bipartisan legislative majorities repealed most of the Brownback tax cuts in 2017, and Kelly ran successfully last year against Brownback's political legacy. Democrats argued that enacting the GOP's smaller tax relief bill also would lead to budget problems within a few years, and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said it was "destined for a veto."

"We can't afford it," said Sen. Tom Holland, a Democrat from northeast Kansas. "We need to buy ourselves some time and just see what's going on with our economy right now."

Republican leaders have argued that failing to act represents a tax increase.

"It's very important to us that we make sure that businesses and individuals keep that money in their pockets, rather than having it go to the state of Kansas for bigger, bloated government," said Senate President Susan Wagle, a conservative Wichita Republican.

Like other states, Kansas faced revising its income tax code because it is tied to the federal tax code. The federal tax changes 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.

The measure would allow individuals to itemize on their state tax returns even if they do not itemize on their federal returns. The bill also cuts taxes for corporations, particularly large firms with operations outside the U.S.

The measure also includes provisions aimed at helping the state collect more taxes from internet sales and start dropping the state's 6.5% sales tax on groceries.

Kelly had promised during her campaign last year to lower the sales tax on groceries. Democrats scoffed at the incremental amount — less than 1 percentage point, or $1 on a $100 grocery bill, in 2021.

"I can hear the conversations at home: 'Honey, the Kansas Legislature has given us a tax break. What are you going to spend your quarter on this week?'" said Rep. Boog Highberger, a Lawrence Democrat.

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John Hanna/Associated Press

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