Kansas Majority Leader Dan Hawkins has spoken to every single Republican House member leading up to the legislature’s final day on May 29.
“Every single one. There’s been a concerted effort to get them all back,” Hawkins says.
Traditionally, the last day lawmakers meet, called Sine Die, just involves procedural votes to formally conclude the session. That won’t be the case this year as the Republican-led legislature will attempt to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a tax reform bill and a line-item veto in the budget to delay payments to the state’s public pension plan.
Hawkins admits overriding Kelly’s tax relief veto will be a heavy lift. A quirk in federal tax reforms last year will force some taxpayers to pay more to the state of Kansas. The bill Kelly vetoed would allow individual Kansans to keep the so-called federal tax “windfall” and prevent multinational companies from having to pay tax on income earned overseas. It would also lower sales taxes on food over time, using incremental proceeds from sales tax on out-of-state purchases. It passed the House one vote short of a veto-proof majority of 84. House leaders will need to flip one vote in order to successfully override the veto, and Hawkins says not every House member plans to be in attendance on Thursday. One representative is in California. Another is recovering from surgery and may not be able to return to Topeka for the last day of the session.
Alan Cobb is the president of the Kansas Chamber. He said the Chamber will be watching to see how lawmakers vote on the tax relief bill.
“Not showing up is essentially voting for a tax increase,” Cobb said.
House Republican leadership is attempting to persuade some Democrats to change their votes. They’re also hoping to convince Rep. Bill Pannbacker, a Washington Republican who voted against the tax relief bill, to change his vote.
Several other states have decoupled their state income tax from the federal tax form to provide tax relief to their residents, according to Cobb. He believes Pannbacker’s constituents would support overriding Kelly’s veto.
“Vermont decoupled,” Cobb said. “That’s Bernie Sanders’ Vermont. Pannbacker’s district is not Vermont. Let me put it that way.”
Hawkins says the House will vote to overturn the Governor whether or not leadership can rally enough votes.
“We will take votes, and we hope we can pass it,” he explained. “Quite frankly, my side–the conservatives–wants to be on the record.”
Kelly’s veto marks a second tax relief bill lawmakers sent to the Governor’s desk. An earlier version would have returned approximately $500 million to taxpayers over three years. The latest legislation returns about half that amount to taxpayers.
Even if the House manages to find the votes to override the Governor’s tax bill veto, things don’t get easier in the Senate. The body passed the measure with just enough to override a veto, but all Senators may not return to Topeka for the final session day.
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican, is hopeful a full Senate will be available to vote on veto overrides.
“If we have to carpool, whatever it is we have to do, no one is going to be able to use the excuse that they’re going to be out in the fields, because they’re going to be stuck in the mud with all this rain,” she said. “We need them to be on the highway heading to Topeka.”
Hawkins says if the legislature fails to override Kelly’s tax relief veto, lawmakers will introduce similar legislation again next year.
“That issue doesn’t go away,” Hawkins said. He takes issue with media reporting that the tax bill is a deal for the rich. He says the legislation would allow the middle class to itemize and save money on their state income taxes.
“The rich already get to itemize,” he said. “Her veto hurts the middle class. That’s what doesn’t make any sense.”
In addition to the tax relief bill, lawmakers will also try to override a few of Kelly’s line item vetoes in the budget. The Governor scrapped $1.2 million for educational reading programs and delaying a $51 million payment to KPERS.
“In a state just shy of three million people, 1 in 10 are KPERS current employees or retirees,” Baumgardner said. “You want to talk about something devastating. It’s devastating if we continue this process of backsliding on making KPERS payments.”
In her veto statement, Kelly said it isn’t prudent to make additional KPERS payments while there are a “large number of critical, unmet needs still facing state government.”
“This line-item veto provides an essential cushion to the state ending balance so that Kansas can continue to pay its bills and rebuild the state more sustainably,” she wrote in her veto message.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning said one thing is clear.
“The new governor has declared war on KPERS,” he wrote in a guest column for the Kansas City Star.
The initial budget Kelly submitted to lawmakers included cuts of more than $500 million to the public pension system, proposed reamoritizing the pension system delaying scheduled payments to the program by up to 30 years, and skipping a scheduled KERPS payment of $115 million that had been delayed since 2016.
Lawmakers unanimously opted to make the $115 million payment in this year’s budget, but Kelly line-item vetoed $51 million in additional KPERS payments lawmakers included in the budget.
Hawkins said even some Democrats may vote in favor of overriding Kelly’s KPERS payment veto.
“I think there’s a chance that some Democrats come and help out with that,” Hawkins said.
Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, wouldn’t commit to overriding the Governor’s KPERS veto. He said he will be looking for more information when the Senate Democratic Caucus meets Wednesday.
“I’ve said all along we need to get as much as we can back into the coffers,” he said. “The ox no one wants to have gored is shoring up KPERS…I would most want to ensure that we did everything that we could for KPERS this year.”