Legislative fights looming over Kelly’s string of vetoes

Republicans have gathered in Topeka to begin override efforts on a string of vetoes from Gov. Laura Kelly on such things as a tax reform bill, abortion restrictions and transgender issues.


State News

April 26, 2023 - 2:08 PM

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly Photo by Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — Hesston state Rep. Stephen Owens expressed dismay Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a bill reducing state taxes by a combined $1.4 billion over three years and had the audacity to recommend the one-time handout of $820 million to Kansas taxpayers.

He said jettison of Senate Bill 169 endorsed by most Republican legislators, and Kelly’s proposal to send each Kansas resident taxpayer a check for $450 this summer, didn’t match her campaign rhetoric to seek the political center and collaborate with GOP lawmakers in her second term.

“You know,” said Owens, a Republican, “this idea that we like to talk about of meeting in the middle was just vetoed.”

Kansas budget director Adam Proffitt, who also serves as Kelly’s secretary at the Department of Administration, said much of the state’s massive budget surplus came from infusion of federal funding. The vetoed bill would drive the state budget in the red by shifting Kansas to a flat individual income tax rate that was “fiscally unsustainable,” he said. The governor’s proposal for one-time direct payments wouldn’t drain the treasury to the point expenditures surpassed revenue, he said.

“Is there any proof that a one-time payment makes the state more attractive … than long term systematic reductions in taxes over time?” Owens said.

In her veto message on the bill, Kelly seemed to anticipate the inquiry. She pointed to parallels between the newly vetoed tax bill and the 2012-2013 tax reform that defined Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. Brownback’s dogged quest to grow the economy by eliminating the state income tax cratered the budget and prompted an increase in state sales tax. His tax program was mostly repealed in a bipartisan vote in 2017.

Adam Proffitt, budget director for Gov. Laura Kelly and secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration, said a broad tax bill was vetoed by the Democratic governor because it would unsustainably devour budget reserves until revenue no longer matched expenditures. Photo by KANSAS REFLECTOR/RACHEL MIPRO

“Kansans know all too well where irresponsible, costly tax experiments lead — to underfunded schools, to deteriorating roads and bridges, and to essential services being cut,” Kelly said.

The bill rejected by Kelly would reduce the state income tax on Social Security benefits, speed elimination of the state sales tax on groceries, tackle residential property taxes and implement a single 5.15% state income tax bracket. It cleared the House 85-38, which would be sufficient to advance a veto override. The Senate adopted the bill by a 24-13 margin. That’s three votes short of the magic number.

“This tax relief passed the House with a bipartisan supermajority and we intend to override the governor’s veto for the benefit of all Kansas taxpayers,” said House Speaker Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita.

Veto extravaganza

While the Legislature took a spring break, Kelly orchestrated an unusually high number of vetoes. Her pen struck legislation restraining transgender and abortion rights. She waded into issues of education, human smuggling and voting. She weighed in on food insecurity and child care.

Since January, she vetoed 15 individual bills. She line-item vetoed more than two dozen items in the sweeping budget bill.

GOP leaders in the House and Senate vowed to seek overrides of Kelly’s vetoes, but during her first term the Legislature reversed Kelly on only nine of 28 vetoes. In the 2023 session, the Legislature is one for one — rebuffing her on House Bill 2238. That override enshrined in state law a requirement participation in sports from kindergarten through college must be based on an individual’s gender determination at birth. It was the first of five anti-transgender measures vetoed by Kelly.

She also rejected four pieces of legislation regulating abortion and a pair of controversial education bills.

“Kansas has money in the bank,” said House Democratic Leader Vic Miller of Topeka. “Most Republicans in the Legislature seem to be okay with using that excess revenue to defend unconstitutional, discriminatory legislation in court where it’s guaranteed to lose as it has in other states already.”