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Ex-Senate leader to help lead Kansas governor’s tax study

By JOHN HANNAJune 20, 2019
FILE - In this March 10, 2015 file photo, former Kansas Senate President and Hugoton resident Steve Morris poses in downtown Hugoton, Kan. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has named Morris as co-chairman of a council she is creating to review the state's tax laws. The Democratic governor said Thursday, June 20, 2019, that Morris will lead her Council on Tax Reform along with former state Sen. Janis Lee. (AP Photo/The Hutchinson News, Lindsey Bauman)
FILE - In this March 10, 2015 file photo, former Kansas Senate President and Hugoton resident Steve Morris poses in downtown Hugoton, Kan. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has named Morris as co-chairman of a council she is creating to review the state's tax laws. The Democratic governor said Thursday, June 20, 2019, that Morris will lead her Council on Tax Reform along with former state Sen. Janis Lee. (AP Photo/The Hutchinson News, Lindsey Bauman)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is giving a key role in a study of Kansas tax laws to a former Republican state Senate leader who was ousted after conflicts with one of her GOP predecessors over tax cuts.

Kelly announced Thursday that former Senate President Steve Morris will serve as co-chairman of the Governor’s Council on Tax Reform. Kelly noted in her announcement that she served with Morris in the Senate before she was elected governor last year.

She called for a study of the state’s tax system while vetoing two tax relief bills pushed by top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature this year. The bills would have prevented businesses and individuals from automatically paying more in state income taxes because of changes in federal tax laws at the end of 2017, but Kelly said they would “decimate” the budget.

“While it’s necessary to proceed with caution due to economic uncertainty, it’s also time to begin the conversation on tax reform that’s beneficial for families and businesses alike,” Kelly said in a statement.

Morris, a moderate Hugoton Republican, served 20 years in the Senate and was president from 2005 through 2012. He lost his Senate seat in a primary-election purge of GOP moderates in 2012 engineered by then-GOP Gov. Sam Brownback’s conservative allies. Brownback had championed slashing income taxes as a potential economic stimulus, and Morris was wary.

Morris has maintained that Brownback persuaded him to save a 2012 bill making deep tax cuts by promising it would be rewritten later, but it wasn’t. Persistent budget problems followed the tax cuts, and Brownback and his allies later blamed Morris, arguing that he and other moderates wouldn’t negotiate better legislation.

Morris did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment Thursday.

Voters came to view Brownback’s tax-cutting experiment as a failure. Bipartisan supermajorities in the Legislature repealed most of them in 2017 over Brownback’s veto, and Kelly ran for governor largely against Brownback’s legacy.

Kelly said Morris will lead the council with another former state senator, Janis Lee, a Kensington Democrat. Lee served in the Senate for 22 years and was influential in tax debates before serving as the chief hearing officer for a special state court that reviewed tax disputes.

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