DALLAS - After weeks of intense pressure, the Kansas House found the votes at 4 a.m. Friday to approve a record tax increase that will reduce a $400 million budget deficit in the fiscal year beginning July 1.
On the 113th day of the longest legislative session, lawmakers in both Houses approved the largest tax increase in the state's history.
The two bills would raise the state sales tax to 6.5% from 6.15% and increase taxes on cigarettes by 50 cents per pack, generating $384 million in revenue. Gov. Sam Brownback, who has said he will sign the measure, would still need to cut $50 million to balance the budget, according to legislative officials.
Approval of the tax hike came after Brownback promised he would sign the measure, offering political cover to lawmakers who had signed pledges to Washington lobbyist Grover Norquist to never vote for a tax increase for the rest of their lives.
"You've just got to act," Brownback said during the Thursday meeting of GOP lawmakers, according to news reports. "I'm pleading with you, really, to just one more time, just get in the saddle."
Norquist, who supported Brownback's plan to eliminate the state income tax, has opposed the Republican governor's call for increasing taxes on cigarettes and alcohol to balance the budget.
"The fact is, so called 'sin taxes' like the cigarette tax and alcohol tax disproportionately impact consumers who can afford the tax increase least. A pack-a-day smoker would end up paying an extra $547.50 in taxes a year," Norquist wrote in a letter to the governor. "Kansans living along the Missouri border may opt to avoid the tax altogether by purchasing their tobacco products in Missouri—where the tax would be lower."
Norquist's "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" has been taken by more than 250 lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate and by 21 lawmakers in the Kansas Legislature, including Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.
Wagle told the Topeka Capital-Journal that she and others had received a special dispensation from Norquist, allowing them to vote for the tax increase.
However, 15 House members have signed onto a separate pledge administered by Americans for Prosperity, an anti-tax group that could be a harder sell.
Five Republicans in the House violated their Norquist pledges in approving the tax.
The pledges made rounding up the 63 votes in the Kansas House to support the tax hikes extremely difficult in the last days of the session.
The Senate narrowly passed the tax bill after Norquist provided the dispensation.
The bill the House passed Friday must go back to the Senate because of some differences.
In the first vote only 20 votes could be found to pass the measure in the House with 95 opposed. The House continued to meet night after night, with votes either failing or being postponed after insufficient support.
In warnings to lawmakers, state budget director Shawn Sullivan warned that the rating agencies would certainly downgrade the state's credit if no tax increase were passed.
Lawmakers had already passed a budget but had not provided sufficient revenue to fund it.