Republican lawmaker in tears as Kansas passes tax hike

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Posted: Jun 12, 2015 5:29 PM
Republican lawmaker in tears as Kansas passes tax hike
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TAX MONEY: Kansas finally passed a budget, but it left at least one legislator in tears.

By Grayson Quay | Watchdog Arena

Kansas State Rep. John Whitmer’s website asserts his belief that “to help grow our economy we must decrease over-reaching regulations and mandates and push tax rates lower,” but this morning he wept at the House lectern when he was forced to compromise on those principles by voting to raise taxes.

After a lengthy debate that lasted until 4 a.m. Friday morning, Whitmer, R-Wichita, urged his fellow Republicans to help pass a pair of controversial bills aimed at resolving the state’s $400 million budget deficit. “I voted for something I am not proud of, but I feel it’s what the folks need,” he said in tears.

The all-night debate, coming at the end of a legislative session that lasted a record 113 days, was by all accounts a stressful affair for everyone involved. The Wichita Eagle reported that Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, compared the debate to “a Greek tragedy,” saying “You knew what the ending was going to be. You just hoped against hope it would be different.”

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, even invoked a “call of the House,” which paused the vote, confined legislators to the House chamber unless they asked permission to use the bathroom, and dispatched the Kansas State Highway Patrol to look for the 19 missing Reps.

Whitmer’s wife, Marlena, answered the phone at around 1:30 p.m. today at his campaign office number in Wichita and told Watchdog that he called her at around 4:30 a.m. after the final vote. Mrs. Whitmer said that his call woke her and that she was “not 100 percent sure what he said,” but that he sounded “tired.” She added that she was glad he would finally be coming home.

The tax plan postponed planned cuts to the state income tax while increasing sales tax and taxes on cigarettes and e-cigarettes. The new plan preserved the income tax exemption for S-corporations.

An opinion piece published by MarketWatch noted that this exemption will mean that working-class families disproportionately bear the cost of plugging the hole in the budget, a concern also raised by Ward. “In case you were wondering, more families buy food than run pass-through corporations,” the author of the MarketWatch piece wrote.

In 2012, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback passed a series of tax cuts that he said would be “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy” and would “pave the way to the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, bring tens of thousands of people to Kansas, and help make our state the best place in America to start and grow a small business.”

To accomplish these goals, Brownback instituted heavy tax cuts, having hired former Reagan adviser and “Father of Supply-Side Economics” Art Laffer as a consultant. The plan cut individual income tax rates and completely eliminated income tax for the owners of about 191,000 businesses.

The state’s experiment with “trickle-down” economics showed some promise, with Forbes reporting in April that that Kansas economy was experiencing strong growth in private sector jobs and wages and that Kansas City, Kan. was economically outperforming Kansas City, Mo.

Unfortunately, the state was left with a $400 million budget shortfall and is required by law to pass a balanced budget. Thursday morning, the House rejected tax increase bill HB 2109, but finally passed it, along with SB 270, at 4 a.m. this morning.

Gov. Brownback said that if the legislature failed to pass a tax plan, he would be forced to make drastic cuts. Among his proposals were completely defunding Kansas public universities, depriving them of $394 million, or making an across-the-board budget cut of 6.2 percent, which would have resulted in the loss of $197 million for Kansas public schools.

This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.