Kansas House Republicans were accused of "political thuggery" after cutting off debate to pass a controversial tax plan that may cost the state at least $2 billion over five years.
The decision to end debate came as House Republicans worked Wednesday to speed passage of the sweeping tax overhaul before the Republican-controlled state Senate could repeal its passage of the plan. The plan -- backed by Gov. Sam Brownback (R) -- would cut personal income taxes and eliminate most state corporate income taxes.
Democrats cite fiscal estimates from non-partisan legislative researchers that show the tax cuts, designed by supply-side economics guru Arthur Laffer, may cost the state $870 million in the next fiscal year and up to $2.7 billion by 2017. Opponents have said the revenue drop will curtail government services in the state, which has a roughly $6 billion annual general fund budget.
"Not only was it rushed through, all debate on it was eliminated. There was no time for this body to examine it," Rep. Nile Dillmore (D-Wichita) told HuffPost. "It was a great bit of political thuggery that went on."
The House decision to cut off debate was primarily to rush the bill to Brownback's desk before the Senate -- controlled by moderate Republicans -- repealed its earlier vote backing of the bill.
"The House called their bluff," Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Merriam) said. "Once the Senate got word that we were voting, they wanted to kill their bill. It became a race."
Sen. Laura Kelly (D-Topeka) said that the House was the one that rushed, starting its session at 1:58 p.m. Wednesday, knowing the Senate wouldn't start until 2:30 p.m.
While the House action sends the bill to Brownback's desk, legislators said that the plan may not become law and may be used as a negotiating tactic between Brownback and Senate Republican moderates over tax issues. Brownback has made overhauling the state tax code a priority of his 2012 agenda and has been at odds with Senate moderates over the issue. The Senate had rejected the tax plan before Brownback convinced the chamber to pass it. Moderate Senate Republicans are facing conservative challengers in the August primaries.
Hildabrand confirmed that the Republicans are looking for the negotiations to continue on the tax plan and that the plan sent to Brownback may not become law. He said the House wanted to continue the discussions and needed to pass a plan to continue the negotiation. He said the House vote allows 10 days for discussion.
Brownback suggested in a statement Wednesday evening he may not sign the plan.
"I am prepared to sign the bill, but I encourage Kansas legislators to continue their work on reforming our state's tax policy and to consider some of the alternatives I proposed in my original pro-growth tax reform to offset the cost," Brownback said, noting that he believes the tax cuts will create jobs.
Hildabrand said studies of the plan are flawed because they fails to calculate that the cuts will spur economic activity and sales tax revenue. Dillmore said studies underestimate the cost to the state, because the elimination of corporate taxes will encourage businesses to restructure to qualify.
While Hildabrand and Republicans agreed the plan will help revenues, Democrats paint a doomsday scenario.
"It will be absolutely devastating," Kelly said. "The impact on this state would be beyond the pale devastating. We'd be underwater. We would have to make massive cuts."
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