Kansas House speaker urges governor to sign tax cuts and avoid special session

House Speaker Dan Hawkins, seen during a March 21, 2023, session of the House, exaggerates the cost of Medicaid expansion, mocks the benefit of providing medical care to nearly 150,000 adults and children, and claims the people who would benefit "choose not to work."
House Speaker Dan Hawkins, seen during a March 21, 2023, session of the House, exaggerates the cost of Medicaid expansion, mocks the benefit of providing medical care to nearly 150,000 adults and children, and claims the people who would benefit "choose not to work."
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House Speaker Dan Hawkins, seen during a March 21, 2023, session of the House, issued a statement Monday urging Gov. Laura Kelly to sign Senate Bill 37. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — House Speaker Dan Hawkins on Monday urged Gov. Laura Kelly to sign bipartisan tax relief rather than summon lawmakers back to Topeka for a special session that would cost $84,000 per day.

The Democratic governor threatened to call a special session if lawmakers failed to adopt a package of tax cuts that met her approval. She vetoed a package of income, property and sales tax cuts that would have left the state with a budget deficit by 2029, and proposed a less-costly alternative.

But lawmakers never considered her proposal before adjourning for the year. Instead, lawmakers passed a nearly identical plan to the one she vetoed.

“The Legislature has bent over backward to address her stated concerns, the state’s fiscal outlook is positive, and we have a hefty budget surplus,” Hawkins said in a statement Monday. “The governor is out of excuses. We don’t need an $84,000-a-day special session for tax relief — the work has already been done through great bipartisan efforts of the legislative tax committees. We simply need the governor to make good on her campaign promise to govern from the middle and sign the bill.”

During her reelection campaign in 2022, Kelly promised to govern from the middle of the road.

“Still looking on the map for the road you are in the ‘middle’ of, Governor,” Rep. Rebecca Schmoe, R-Ottawa, wrote on X. “Sign the tax bill over half of your own party in the legislature supports. Do something that helps every Kansan.”

Senate Bill 37 cleared the House by a 108-11 margin and the Senate 25-9.

The legislation would exempt Social Security income from income tax and increase standard deductions. It would exempt $100,000 of residential property value from the state mill levy — and reduce the rate from 20 mills to 19.5 mills. It would eliminate the state sales tax on food by July 1.

It would also move the state from three income tax brackets to two.

Kansas currently uses a graduated system: 3.1% for income under $15,000, 5.25% for income between $15,000 and $30,000 and 5.7% for income above $30,000. The income amounts are doubled for couples filing jointly.

Under SB 37, the first $23,000 would be taxed at 5.2%, and anything over $23,000 would be taxed at 5.57%. The threshold would be $46,000 for couples.

The bill also would abolish the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund. From 1937 to 2003, the state distributed a portion of sales tax collections into the fund, which then offset local property taxes. Lawmakers haven’t funded the program in two decades, frustrating local officials.

Kelly’s proposal would have retained the exemption on Social Security income and the July 1 expiration of the sales tax on food. She would have raised the residential property exemption to $125,000 while keeping the rate at 20 mills. And she would have added a child care tax credit valued at $18 million per year.

She would have kept the three-tier income tax system but lowered the rates to 3%, 5.2% and 5.65%.

As lawmakers worked late on April 30 to pass SB 37, Kelly’s chief of staff Will Lawrence issued a warning: “She will call the Legislature back into a special session if this is the tax plan sent to her desk.”

Lawmakers made a final tweak, lessening the amount of income tax cuts, before passing the law. It isn’t clear if the governor intends to sign it.

Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, posted a chart on X that shows the amount of income tax relief a family would receive depending on their earnings. Couples who earn less than $40,000 would see some of the largest benefits, according to his chart, and the percentage of savings would disproportionately benefit low-wage earners.

“I hope the governor signs it,” Sawyer said.

The post Kansas House speaker urges governor to sign tax cuts and avoid special session appeared first on Kansas Reflector.