It was only two months ago that Governor Sam Brownback was offering up the steep tax cuts he enacted in Kansas as a model for President Trump to follow. Yet by the time Republicans in Congress get around to tax reform, Brownback’s fiscal plan could be history—and it’ll be his own party that kills it.
The GOP-controlled legislature in Kansas nearly reversed the conservative governor’s tax cuts on Tuesday, as a coalition of Democrats and newly-elected centrist Republicans came within a few votes of overriding Brownback’s veto of legislation to raise income-tax rates and eliminate an exemption for small businesses that blew an enormous hole in the state’s budget. Brownback’s tax cuts survive for now, but lawmakers and political observers view the surprising votes in the state House and Senate as a strong sign that the five-year-old policy will be substantially erased in a final budget deal this spring. Kansas legislators must close a $346 million deficit by June, and years of borrowing and quick fixes have left them with few remaining options aside from tax hikes or deep spending cuts to education that could be challenged in court. The tax bill would have raised revenues by more than $1 billion over two years.
The Brownback blowback has been a long time coming. Though he won reelection in 2014, the governor has presided over one budget mess after another since then, and all but his staunchest conservative allies have blamed the crisis on reductions in personal tax rates and a provision that exempted 330,000 owners of small businesses from paying income taxes. Brownback has resisted efforts to undo the policies, preferring instead to raise taxes on tobacco, fuel, and other consumer goods. His relationship with Republicans in the legislature deteriorated, and in primary and general elections last year, a wave of Democrats and centrist Republicans defeated many of the conservatives who had stood by him.