POLITICS
05/17/2013 06:20 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2013

Sam Brownback's Sales Tax Plan Faces Opposition From Conservative Kansas Republicans

AP

A group of conservative Republican freshmen state legislators in Kansas met with Gov. Sam Brownback (R) on Friday and told him that they will not support his attempt to keep in place a 3-year-old sales tax hike.

Brownback is pushing the sales tax increase to offset a cut to state income taxes passed last year.

In order to plug a budget gap in 2010, Kansas lawmakers passed a measure to raise the state sales tax from 5.3 to 6.3 percent for three years. That tax is scheduled to be rolled back to 5.7 percent on July 1, with the remaining difference permanently earmarked for transportation.

Brownback said he needs to keep the sales tax hike in place in order to meet his eventual goal of eliminating the state's income taxes. But the governor and his conservative allies in the state Senate have gotten pushback from state House members.

"We are the solid 'No' votes for anything above 5.7 percent," state Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), the leader of the nine-member group, told The Huffington Post of the sales tax proposal. "We are not seeing the things that we need to see."

Claeys said lawmakers in 2010 had been promised that the tax hike would be rolled back this year; they are now being asked to effectively reverse their votes, he said, and his group of freshman Republicans does not want to be surprised the same way down the line. Claeys said at the end of the day, he and his allies are keeping their 2012 campaign promises to oppose tax hikes.

The group favors Brownback's income tax plan, according to Claeys, but the conservative lawmakers would prefer it was paid for with cuts to spending, rather than a sales tax hike. He said the group fears Kansas's financial outlook could change over the five-year proposed period to reduce income taxes, potentially canceling out the cuts.

There is talk of a compromise for a 6 percent sales tax, but Claeys said he and his allies have told the governor that they won't back that either.

The Friday meeting is unusual, since the conservative freshmen House members are expected to support the governor. The resistance comes months after Brownback and his allies, including Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed group, funded campaigns to oust most of Kansas's moderate Republican state legislators, flipping the moderate GOP Senate to a more conservative body.

The conservative freshmen are not the only House members opposing Brownback; moderate Republicans and the Democratic caucus have also lined up against the sales tax plan. Kansas Democratic Party spokesman Dakota Loomis told HuffPost that the Republican freshmen's staunch opposition is yet another sign that Brownback is failing.

"Conservatives not agreeing with the governor is a sign of no one agreeing with the governor," he said.

Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag described Friday's meeting as "a constructive conversation," and that the governor expects lawmakers to craft a tax and spending plan that will further the state.

"He expects the Legislature to pass a tax plan and a balanced budget that fund our state’s core responsibilities, provide the state a strong ending balance and continue to reduce the tax burden on Kansans," Jones-Sontag wrote in an email to HuffPost. "His position on this is well known. The House and Senate have accomplished a great deal this session. The governor stands ready to help however he can. He is confident legislators will finish the session strong in the coming week."

State Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Palco), a member of the conservative freshmen group, also told HuffPost that he believes Friday's meeting was productive.

While many Democrats and moderate Republicans in both the House and Senate were targeted for their support of the 2010 sales tax hike during last year's election, Claeys said fear of 2014 is not the driving force in his group's opposition to the governor. But he said he thinks Republicans in the state Senate are likely motivated by past help from Brownback.

"We on the House side did not receive the same support in our races from the governor's side," Claeys said. "We won election by going door to door and telling the voters our positions. We owe it to the people we serve to protect them from outrageous tax hikes. Some senators feel they owe their elections to the governor."

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