Kansas task force working in secret on tax proposal

There is a task force in state government that is going to deliver to Gov. Sam Brownback a tax proposal that could affect every Kansan.

But who those task force members are, what their backgrounds are and what stake they have in the outcome have been mostly hidden from the public. There have been no public meetings.

One thing is known: Arthur Laffer, one of the architects of President Ronald Reagan’s supply-side economics, “is providing his expertise throughout the process and he will be in the state helping to present the tax plan once it is finalized,” according to Jeannine Koranda, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Revenue.

Laffer is being paid $75,000 for his consulting services, she said.

Kansas Department of Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan is heading the effort to give recommendations to Brownback by the end of the year. Jordan has said a task force is near completion of its task.

When Jordan’s office was asked by the Journal-World to provide names of those serving on the task force and other details, the office provided little information.

“People are being pulled into the discussion as their expertise is needed,” Koranda said. “More people are being consulted as time goes on; just about everywhere the secretary goes, people are providing ideas.”

Koranda said that senior Revenue Department staff members Richard Cram, head of policy and research, and Steve Stotts, director of taxation, have been consulted.

“These consultations have also included leaders of the House and Senate tax committees, various state agency heads, economists and business owners. The discussions have not been limited to a set group of people nor have they been scheduled on a regular basis. This is not an appointed group,” she said.

But only Republican leaders of the House and Senate tax committees have been consulted so far, she said. Brownback and Jordan are Republicans. Koranda said Democrats will be talked with before a bill is introduced.

She declined to identify any of the business owners lending their advice.

Jordan, a former state senator from Shawnee, has played his hand close to the vest on which taxes will be reduced.

But Brownback is eager to cut taxes, subscribing to Laffer’s theory that reduced taxes produce more business growth, which eventually will result in more revenue to take care of government needs.

He has stated several times he wants to decrease the state income tax.

But others say that after years of budget cuts to schools, social services and public safety, now is not the time to cut taxes.

“I hope when Gov. Brownback looks at Kansas he sees our people, not just dollar signs,” said Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon.

“I have serious questions about what this tentative tax reduction plan will mean for everyday Kansans,” she said. “Will parents continue to see increased class sizes in their kids’ schools? Will abused and neglected children still be left without immediate access to help? Will seniors have to go without Meals on Wheels?”

By Scott Rothschild

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