Top Republicans put Kansas income tax hike on fast track

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW/AP) -- Some top Republicans pushed Thursday to get a big increase in personal income taxes quickly through the Kansas Legislature to help balance the budget, though the bipartisan proposal doesn't appear to have enough support to overcome a possible veto from GOP Gov. Sam Brownback.

The House approved the tax bill Thursday on a 76-48 vote , sending it to the Senate. The measure would raise more than $1 billion over two years by raising income tax rates Brownback persuaded lawmakers to cut, restoring a third tax bracket he successfully sought to eliminate and ending an exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners that he championed.

Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said her chamber would debate and vote on the bill Friday, forgoing the typical hearings, debate and vote by a committee. She said it is likely to have enough support to pass.

If the bill goes as is to Brownback, lawmakers would set up an unusual confrontation between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Republican governor over how best to close projected budget shortfalls totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019.

"That bill has momentum," Wagle said of the House's measure.

The governor said Wednesday that he would not sign the bill, arguing that it would hurt middle-class families and small businesses. Instead, he has proposed raising taxes on cigarette and liquor and boosting annual filing fees for for-profit businesses, along with a series of one-time financial maneuvers, such as internal government borrowing.

Brownback stopped short of threatening to veto the bill, and governors are allowed to let a bill become law without signing it. Some Republicans believe he would do that with the House tax bill, but Brownback declared in a speech Wednesday to National Federation of Independent Business members that the measure was "really going the wrong way."

Supporters of the bill had seven more votes when the House gave it first-round approval Wednesday on an 83-39 vote , leaving them one vote shy of a two-thirds majority. But it's not unusual for support for a measure to slip overnight, particularly on bills that would increase taxes.

The measure split Republicans, including the House's top leaders. Majority Leader Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican, said in explaining his "yes" vote that it corrected the excesses of income tax cuts made by GOP lawmakers at Brownback's urging in 2012 and 2013. Even some Republican voters concluded last year that Brownback's tax-cutting experiment had been a bust as an economic stimulus.

The state has struggled to balance its budget since those first tax cuts, but Brownback and his allies contend that the state's current budget woes are due largely to slumps in agriculture and energy production. Some conservatives want to cut spending first.

"To any Kansan impacted by this vote, taking your hard-earned money and giving it to government makes your life harder," said Rep. Chuck Weber, a conservative Wichita Republican. "It's not fair."

The Senate planned to debate a Democratic plan Thursday that would raise $1.2 billion over two years, but even Democratic senators thought the GOP majority would block it.

Meanwhile, many lawmakers could embrace Brownback's proposal for $317 million in internal borrowing to get the state through June without cutting education funding. The House gave a bill containing the plan first-round approval Thursday and expected to pass it in a final vote Friday.