Kansas Sales Tax, Cigarette Tax Going Up

Kansas Sen. Jeff Longbine (R) accused Gov. Sam Brownback (R) of using “political blackmail” to get a budget package that included higher state sales and cigarette taxes approved two weeks before the end of the state’s fiscal year.

“This fix doesn’t fix the problem,” Longbine told the Kansas City Star. “If you’ve got congestive heart failure, you go to the cardiologist and not the dentist.”

Democrats accused Brownback of erasing a $400 million budget deficit on the backs of the poor.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D) said, “We’re asking poor people to pay more to keep a misguided, reckless tax policy in place.”

Bernie Koch of the Kansas Economic Progress Council warned the plan would hurt the very people Brownback came into office saying he wanted to help the most – business owners.

For his part, Brownback (R) congratulated the legislature for approving the sales tax increase that completed “a pro-growth tax policy and a balanced budget.”

And with that Brownback put the gun he had held to the head of the legislature back into his holster.

While the legislature debated his tax proposal and his fellow GOPers offered their own ideas, Brownback threatened massive budget cuts and laid out the possibility that state workers, who were declared “essential” and could not be fired, might have to work without the promise of getting paid.

Massive budget cuts were only days away if the legislature had not agreed on a spending plan, which according to Kansas’ constitution had to be balanced.

This should have been easy. Everyone knew Kansas faced a $400 million budget deficit. Republicans controlled both houses of the Kansas Legislature. Brownback is a Republican. But still debate went into the 11th hour.

In the end, Kansas House members held their noses, gritted their teeth and approved Brownback’s budget plan at 4 a.m., June 12. Twelve hours after that, the Senate approved the plan, finishing a 113-day legislative session, which was the longest in the state’s history.

Opponents to the plan pushed by the Brownback administration blamed the $400 million budget hole on the governor’s insistence on cutting taxes to the bone in 2012.

That tax package erased the state’s top tax bracket and cut all income tax rates. But what Brownback’s opponents really had a problem with was the provision that removed more than 330,000 business owners from the state’s tax rolls.

Sen. Longbine was one of the Republicans who wanted to roll back that tax exemption for business owners in the 2015-2016 budget. But Brownback threatened to veto any legislation that contained that provision.