Thursday, May 30, 2013

Freshmen Republicans in the House don’t like options provided so far from their leaders

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Freshmen House Republicans are getting antsy about being told to increase taxes to provide revenue because of last year's deep tax cuts that were approved before they ran for office.

"We came here to lower spending and cut taxes, and what we've seen so far hasn't done either one," state Rep. Michael Houser, R-Columbus, who is serving his first term, said Wednesday.

Last year, with only Republican support, the Legislature approved cuts in income tax rates and eliminated taxes on non-wage income for 191,000 business owners.

The cuts signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback projected revenue shortfalls for years to come.

"When we voted for that, we knew there were some problems that needed to be fixed," said state Rep. Ronald Ryckman Sr., R-Meade, who is in his second term.

Ryckman agreed with Houser that state spending needs to be reduced, but added that there are looming expenses, such as a school finance lawsuit, that will require additional funds.

"We are going to have to find some way to bring in some revenue," Ryckman said.

But the proposed fixes to last year's tax cuts have yet to draw a majority in the House, which has the largest contingent of new members in more than 40 years.

Forty-nine of the 125 members in the House have never served in the Legislature, and 40 of them are Republicans. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the House 92-33.

So far, many of the freshmen Republicans have resisted calls by Brownback and their legislative leaders to make permanent all or a portion of a temporary state sales tax increase. Brownback says the higher sales tax is needed to help balance the budget and buy down future income tax rate cuts. Cutting the income taxes, Brownback argues, is key to stimulating the economy.

But Democrats and some Republicans say cutting income taxes just increases sales and property taxes, which hit low- and middle-income Kansans the hardest.

The current state sales tax rate of 6.3 percent was set in 2010 to avoid deep cuts during the Great Recession. It is scheduled to fall to 5.7 percent on July 1.

Brownback wants to retain the 6.3 percent rate. The House, however, has rejected proposals to go to 6 percent. Even though these proposals would phase down income tax rates, they would produce $800 million or more in increased tax revenue over the next 5 years.

Some Republican House members said perhaps the Legislature should approve a budget and adjourn and continue the debate on taxes next year.

But House leaders said next year's budget would be rough shape without new revenue.

House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg, said House leaders would meet throughout the day with rank-and-file Republicans "so we can continue to find out where our caucus is."

The Legislature already has been in session 96 days, which is 6 days longer than it was supposed to meet, and 16 days longer than Republican leaders had vowed they would meet.

The wrap-up session, which started May 8 after a monthlong break, costs about $45,000 per day.