Kansas senators pass sweeping 4.75% flat income tax

Effort by Democratic senator to amend the bill with a graduated income tax system met with mockery by opponents

By: - February 23, 2023 7:49 pm

Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, sits at her desk on the floor of the Kansas Senate. Tyson and Senate President Ty Masterson have championed a proposed flat income tax. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

The richest Kansans would receive thousands of dollars in income tax cuts while the poorest residents would save just a few under a bill Kansas senators passed Thursday.

After a debate that turned bitter when a Democratic senator proposed a graduated income tax system, the Kansas Senate voted 22-17 for a 4.75% flat income tax rate on a voice vote. It now goes to the Kansas House of Representatives for consideration.

The flat tax has been championed by Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, and carried on the floor by Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, who chairs the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee. 

“What we’re doing here is we are lowering state income tax for almost every single income taxpayer in the state,” Tyson said, “and it is absolutely not an increase. It simplifies the policy.”

Tyson and Masterson claimed states with no income tax or single-rate systems are better off than those with progressive or graduated income tax brackets.

Senate Bill 169 would do away with the state’s current tiered income tax system in favor of one rate for all individuals earning more than $5,225 or couples earning more than $10,450. It would cost the state $568.5 million in the first full fiscal year after it takes effect, according to the state’s estimate.

The Washington, D.C.-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates it will cost the state $764 million. 

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, talks to Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, on the Senate floor. Holland tried unsuccessfully on Thursday to amend a flat tax proposal championed by Masterson. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, tried to amend the bill to add more tiers to the existing tax structure, saving low-income filers money and increasing taxes on the wealthiest Kansans. He said the proposal would result in a net cut of $43 million in state income tax revenue, but it failed. 

While Holland came up with his alternative off-the-cuff, he said a progressive income tax structure would be better than the regressive flat tax.

Holland said with the possibility of a recession looming, now is not the time for a major cut in revenue. 

He invoked former Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax “experiment,” which threw the state’s budget out of balance for years and made it difficult for the Legislature to fund schools to satisfy the requirements of the Kansas Constitution and perform state governmental services.

“And so what I’m trying to avoid … is Brownback 2.0, train wreck 2.0, and get us back on course,” Holland said, noting that since the Legislature abandoned the Brownback tax scheme, it had been able to put money back into its rainy day fund and stabilize the budget.

Holland said he was excited by some of the other tax policies the Senate discussed Thursday, including exempting Social Security income from state income taxes for some filers.

“If you’re voting for the flat tax because you really feel sorry for high-income individuals and all you care about is what their effective tax rate is, then just tune me out for the next couple of minutes,” Holland said before laying out his proposed brackets. 

Masterson, who has proposed partially rolling back the planned sales tax cut on food to pay for the flat tax, called Holland’s amendment unserious and destructive. 

“I know it’s getting late, so I’m not sure debating something that was kind of pulled out of your rear end at the last minute and thrown on the floor is really influencing a lot of people or winning friends,” Masterson said. 

He went on to say places with high state income taxes, including California, are losing residents as a result. He called California “a case study in how you destroy a divinely blessed piece of dirt.”

Masterson said balancing the budget wasn’t a huge accomplishment given the influx in federal money, but he took credit for it on behalf of Republicans. 

“You’re welcome,” he said. “Got money in the rainy day fund — you’re welcome. Right, it’s a red state, Republican Legislature.”

The vote came as part of a parade of tax bills a day before a deadline for legislation to be voted out of its chamber of origin. With some exceptions, a House bill must pass the House, or a Senate bill pass the Senate, by Friday.

This story has been updated following final passage of the bill.

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she’s covered state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City, and most recently was City Hall reporter for The Kansas City Star.