Posts tagged with Kansas Politics

In State of State, Brownback unveils plan to cut Kansas personal income tax

Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday called for a cut in the state personal income tax and minimal budget increases, saying that will put Kansas in the fast lane on the road to economic growth.

"Let's put our 'lost decade' … in the rear view mirror and speed ahead — at 75 miles per hour — to make this decade the decade of growth and job creation," Brownback, a Republican, said in the State of the State address.

But his plan hit immediate bumps from legislators.

Brownback's proposal would cancel a scheduled decrease in the state sales tax rate, and eliminate many state tax credits and deductions, such as the deduction for charitable contributions and mortgage interest payments, and the earned income tax credit, which helps low-income families.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said Brownback's tax plan and others that have been proposed for the 2012 legislative session need to be closely reviewed.

"Taxes are very important," Morris said. "We have to be very careful," he added. Morris said he wants to see the recommendations of a special tax committee he formed before reaching any conclusions.

Brownback's tax plan

On the state personal income tax, Brownback's plan would collapse the three current individual income tax rates into two.

Kansas' current tax rates for married couples filing jointly are 3.5 percent on the first $30,000 of income, 6.25 percent on income between $30,000 and $60,000, and 6.45 percent on the portion above $60,000.

Brownback's plan would tax 3 percent of the first $30,000 and 4.9 percent on the portion above that. It would also eliminate individual state income tax on most small businesses. This will affect 191,000 Kansas tax filers.

He said the proposal would provide a $425 tax cut on the median Kansas tax return of a married couple with one child filing jointly and income of $65,430.

But his plan would also make permanent the 6.3 cents per dollar state sales tax, which was scheduled to fall to 5.7 cents per dollar on July 1, 2013. That was a temporary tax increase approved in 2010 to help the state budget weather the Great Recession.

Democrats and some Republicans said they were concerned that Brownback's proposed income tax cut would shift the tax burden to property taxes. "If property taxes rise, that hurts everyone," said state Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence.

Brownback's tax proposal was the latest addition to the governor's sweeping agenda in his second year in office.

In his State of the State speech, he reviewed his other plans. They include replacing the public pension plan for new hires with a 401 (k) style savings plan; hiring private companies to manage Medicaid; pushing more responsibility for funding schools onto local taxpayers; and repeal of what he called the "use-it-or-lose-it" water law.

Spending caps

Brownback also pushed for a 2 percent cap on spending increases and devoting state revenues raised above that amount to more tax cuts. "This will get us even closer to the pro-growth states with no state income taxes, which are among the country's strongest performers," he said.

But Morris said holding the state budget to a 2 percent increase would be difficult to achieve. Mandated spending for pensions and social service caseloads alone would top 2 percent, he said, and that is before working on budgets for education, public safety and other areas.

Brownback said his budget plan for the next fiscal year would produce an ending balance of $465 million, but some legislators said such a large ending balance is unnecessary when there are many unmet needs in the state.

State Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said cuts to schools and social services over the past several need to be addressed now before they hurt the state's future. "There is a price to pay for that," Ballard said.

Democratic response

Democrats, who are vastly outnumbered in the Legislature, on Wednesday offered an alternative agenda.

"Kansas Democrats cannot support a tax cut that makes the gap between the rich and the middle class even wider," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence. "We are particularly unwilling to support such a proposal while schools are limping along and other, more regressive taxes are driving Kansans into poverty," Davis said.

Democrats said they want to focus on creating jobs, funding schools and lowering property taxes.

The Democrats' economic proposal includes a group of bills aimed at improving job-training programs, and repairing aging buildings at state universities and city and county infrastructure. The measure calls for expanded gambling, including a casino in southeast Kansas and slot machines at racetracks.

On education, the Democrats have called for spending a portion of current and projected future surpluses to start restoring cuts to public schools.

"We believe that the school funding cuts in recent years have gone way too far," Davis said.

A portion of the greater-than-expected revenue flowing into state coffers — now standing at approximately $350 million — can also be used provide property tax relief, Democrats said.

— Scott Rothschild, Lawrence Journal-World

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In State of State, Brownback outlines plan to cut Kansas personal income tax

Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday called for a cut in the state personal income tax and minimal budget increases, saying that will put Kansas in the fast lane on the road to economic growth.

"Let's put our 'lost decade' … in the rear view mirror and speed ahead — at 75 miles per hour — to make this decade the decade of growth and job creation," Brownback, a Republican, said in the State of the State address.

But his plan hit immediate bumps from legislators.

Brownback's proposal would cancel a scheduled decrease in the state sales tax rate, and eliminate many state tax credits and deductions, such as the deduction for charitable contributions and mortgage interest payments, and the earned income tax credit, which helps low-income families.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said Brownback's tax plan and others that have been proposed for the 2012 legislative session need to be closely reviewed.

"Taxes are very important," Morris said. "We have to be very careful," he added. Morris said he wants to see the recommendations of a special tax committee he formed before reaching any conclusions.

Brownback's tax plan

On the state personal income tax, Brownback's plan would collapse the three current individual income tax rates into two.

Kansas' current tax rates for married couples filing jointly are 3.5 percent on the first $30,000 of income, 6.25 percent on income between $30,000 and $60,000, and 6.45 percent on the portion above $60,000.

Brownback's plan would tax 3 percent of the first $30,000 and 4.9 percent on the portion above that. It would also eliminate individual state income tax on most small businesses. This will affect 191,000 Kansas tax filers.

He said the proposal would provide a $425 tax cut on the median Kansas tax return of a married couple with one child filing jointly and income of $65,430.

But his plan would also make permanent the 6.3 cents per dollar state sales tax, which was scheduled to fall to 5.7 cents per dollar on July 1, 2013. That was a temporary tax increase approved in 2010 to help the state budget weather the Great Recession.

Democrats and some Republicans said they were concerned that Brownback's proposed income tax cut would shift the tax burden to property taxes. "If property taxes rise, that hurts everyone," said state Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence.

Brownback's tax proposal was the latest addition to the governor's sweeping agenda in his second year in office.

In his State of the State speech, he reviewed his other plans. They include replacing the public pension plan for new hires with a 401 (k) style savings plan; hiring private companies to manage Medicaid; pushing more responsibility for funding schools onto local taxpayers; and repeal of what he called the "use-it-or-lose-it" water law.

Spending caps

Brownback also pushed for a 2 percent cap on spending increases and devoting state revenues raised above that amount to more tax cuts. "This will get us even closer to the pro-growth states with no state income taxes, which are among the country's strongest performers," he said.

But Morris said holding the state budget to a 2 percent increase would be difficult to achieve. Mandated spending for pensions and social service caseloads alone would top 2 percent, he said, and that is before working on budgets for education, public safety and other areas.

Brownback said his budget plan for the next fiscal year would produce an ending balance of $465 million, but some legislators said such a large ending balance is unnecessary when there are many unmet needs in the state.

State Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said cuts to schools and social services over the past several need to be addressed now before they hurt the state's future. "There is a price to pay for that," Ballard said.

Democratic response

Democrats, who are vastly outnumbered in the Legislature, on Wednesday offered an alternative agenda.

"Kansas Democrats cannot support a tax cut that makes the gap between the rich and the middle class even wider," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence. "We are particularly unwilling to support such a proposal while schools are limping along and other, more regressive taxes are driving Kansans into poverty," Davis said.

Democrats said they want to focus on creating jobs, funding schools and lowering property taxes.

The Democrats' economic proposal includes a group of bills aimed at improving job-training programs, and repairing aging buildings at state universities and city and county infrastructure. The measure calls for expanded gambling, including a casino in southeast Kansas and slot machines at racetracks.

On education, the Democrats have called for spending a portion of current and projected future surpluses to start restoring cuts to public schools.

"We believe that the school funding cuts in recent years have gone way too far," Davis said.

A portion of the greater-than-expected revenue flowing into state coffers — now standing at approximately $350 million — can also be used provide property tax relief, Democrats said.

The full text of the Democratic response may be read here.

By Scott Rothschild

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Business lobby, aided by $36,000 from Koch Industries, targets eight Republican incumbents in state Senate for defeat

Two business heavyweights — the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Koch Industries — have targeted eight state senators for defeat in the Republican Party primary.

“During the difficult economic downturn, while businesses were tightening their belts to survive, some in the Kansas Senate opted for tax increases instead of responsible spending cuts,” Chamber Political Action Chairman Ivan Crossland said Tuesday.

“Bloated state budgets, increased taxes and growing union and trial lawyer support are not the ingredients for private sector job creation. The candidates we have chosen to support are willing to do what it takes to turn things around in Kansas,” Crossland said.

The Chamber said a majority of Republicans in the Kansas House and Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, support a pro-business agenda.

The Chamber PAC’s campaign finance report filed Tuesday illustrates the effort by Brownback’s supporters to wrest control of the Senate from so-called moderate Republicans. The Chamber PAC collected $163,000 in contributions last year with the biggest donors being Koch Industries, which contributed more than $36,000. Among other large contributors was The Lawrence Paper Co., $15,000; and Murfin Drilling Co., $10,000.

The Chamber PAC donated $1,000 and made in-kind contributions to eight Republican challengers, including to state Rep. Larry Powell, R-Garden City, who is challenging Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.

Asked to respond to the chamber’s comments, Morris said, “I am proud of my conservative, pro-jobs, pro-business record in the Kansas Senate.

“I have fought to create jobs in my district and in our state — jobs like the Sunflower power plant and Abenoga ethanol facility. Jobs will continue to be one of my top priorities as the 2012 legislative session begins.”

The other incumbent GOP senators whose challengers received maximum contributions from the Chamber PAC are Pete Brungardt, of Salina; Terrie Huntington, of Fairway; Carolyn McGinn, of Sedgwick; Tim Owens, of Overland Park; Vicki Schmidt, of Topeka; Jean Schodorf, of Wichita, and John Vratil of Leawood.

Legislators in 2010, who supported an increase in the state sales tax, said it was necessary to avoid damaging cuts in schools, social services and public safety. The increase has also helped fund the state highway plan. The chamber opposed the tax increase and is now, along with Brownback, pushing for tax cuts.

By Scott Rothschild

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Kansas Democrats offer school finance plan

Kansas Democratic legislators on Tuesday unveiled a plan that restores cuts made to schools, provides property tax relief and stands in stark contrast to a proposal by Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, to overhaul the finance formula.

“Cuts to schools have gone way too far in the last few years,” said House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence. “But the problem has not been the formula. It has been the lack of funding,” Davis said.

Under the Democrats’ three-year plan, the Lawrence school district would see an increase of $3.7 million in state funding. That would include increases of $933,839 in the next school year, $933,839 the year after that, and $1.868 million in the third year.

Democrats said the goal is to restore funding that has been cut during the recession and get base state aid up to $4,492 per student. Cuts in base state aid over the past several years have dropped that level to $3,780 per student, which is the lowest mark in a decade and has led to teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.

The plan would pump an additional $45 million in the 2012-13 school year, $45 million more in 2013-14, and $90 million more in 2014-15. In addition the plan would also allocate $45 million to local governments to reduce property taxes. Under the proposal, Douglas County would receive $1.7 million.

The additional school funding and tax relief dollars would come from the current $350 million that the state has received above earlier projections and expected future gains in revenues, Democrats said during a news conference before students and teachers at Lowman Hill Elementary.

Spending the surplus or cutting taxes

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley framed the debate, saying that Brownback wants to give “our surplus revenue to corporations” through tax cuts while Democrats want “to make an investment in our children’s future.”

Brownback has said he wants to reduce the state personal income tax as a way to spur economic growth. He is expected to release details of that proposal during his State of the State speech on Wednesday. Of 1.4 million individual state income taxpayers in 2009, nearly 200,000 or 13 percent were business taxpayers, according to the Kansas Department of Revenue.

On school funding, Brownback has proposed a complete revamping of the finance formula that would place more responsibility on local taxpayers and local boards of education.

He proposes leaving in place for one more school year the current level of base state aid of $3,780 per pupil.

Once the new plan is put into place, Brownback said it will cost an additional $45 million in base state aid, which is approximately 2 percent more than than the amount spent now. But many mid-size and large districts wouldn’t see any increase.

According to a spreadsheet of funding for school districts provided by the governor’s office, the Lawrence school district would see no change in its total funding between the current formula and the one proposed by Brownback.

Brownback’s plan would eliminate state limits on local property taxes for schools and junk a system of “weightings” that are used to provide school districts additional funds for transportation costs, bilingual education, students who are at risk of failing and other factors that increase the cost of education. Brownback has said his plan would provide the funding but give local districts more leeway in how to spend the dollars.

Democrats have argued there is no reason to overhaul the formula and that Brownback’s plan will widen the gap between rich and poor districts, leading to more local property tax increases and litigation.

By Scott Rothschild

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Brownback’s State of State address, Democratic response tonight

Gov. Sam Brownback will deliver the 2012 State of the State address at 6:30 p.m. and then Democrats will provide a response at 7 p.m.

Brownback's office released this list of media outlets that will broadcast the speech.

Television

KTPS (Wichita)

KTWU (Topeka)

Smoky Hills Public Television

Radio

Kansas Information Network (Find the list of network’s 33 affiliates located across the state here http://radionetworks.com/kinaffiliates.html)

KSAL-Salina 1150 AM

Kansas Public Radio

KANU-Lawrence / Topeka / Kansas City FM 91.5

KANH-Emporia FM 89.7

KANV-Olsburg / Junction City FM 91.3 and in Manhattan on FM 99.5

High Plains Public Radio

KANZ- Garden City FM 91.1

KZNA-Hill City FM 90.5

With assorted transmitters and translators all across western KS

Radio Kansas

KHCC-Hutchinson / Wichita FM 90.1

KHCD-Salina / Manhattan FM 89.5

KHCT-Great Bend / Hays FM 90.9

KMUW-Wichita FM 89.1

KRPS-Pittsburg, KS FM 89.9

KCUR-Kansas City, Missouri FM 89.3

Intertnet Livestreaming

www.KWCH.com (video)

http://kslegislature.org/li/

www.khi.org

www.am580wibw.com

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Brownback rethinking state funding of the arts, officials say

Gov. Sam Brownback is working on ways to provide funding for the arts after his controversial veto last year that made Kansas the first state in the nation to stop funding the arts.

Rep. TerriLois Gregory, R-Baldwin City, said Monday arts funding strategies are being developed by the governor’s staff.

She said that the funds may be channeled through the Kansas Department of Commerce in the form of grants and that the still-existing but unfunded Arts Commission could be merged with the Kansas Film Commission.

“The grants would be more focused on job creation,” Gregory said.

The 2012 legislative session started Monday, and Brownback will outline his priorities in the State of the State address Wednesday.

At a Lawrence Chamber of Commerce breakfast with legislators, Gregory said some of the avenues being explored is providing arts funding through the sales of a special arts supporter license plate or donations through a tax checkoff.

In a recent interview with the Lawrence Journal-World, Brownback said he would revisit the issue but didn’t elaborate.

Brownback vetoed state funding of the Kansas Arts Commission, saying that the arts was not a core function of state government and that he expected private donors to step up. After his veto of the $689,000 state appropriation, the state lost $1.2 million in federal funding.

Arts supporters have criticized Brownback, saying the veto has hurt arts programs statewide, particularly in rural areas.

Sarah Carkhuff Fizell, a spokeswoman for Kansas Citizens for the Arts, said she was encouraged that Brownback may propose a new funding plan.

“We are excited about the potential that the governor appears willing to open this up and work with getting this whole arts thing back on track, but we don’t have enough details to know what this looks like,” Fizell said.

She added: “The arts are jobs and economic development, and that is crucial to moving Kansas forward.”

By Scott Rothschild

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Kansans For No Income Tax revs up membership drive

So how much is it worth to recruit members to support Gov. Sam Brownback's effort to cut the state's personal income tax?

Apparently, $4 per person.

Last month, Kansans For No Income Tax sought "short term field directors to build up membership over the holidays," according to an email that has been forwarded to the Lawrence Journal-World.

"This is a temporary position that pays $4 for every member signed up," the email from Craig Allen Harms says. "We are looking to bring on one to two temporary team members through Dec. 31st. Let me know if anyone comes to mind that might need some quick cash and has some time," the email states.

Kansans For No Income Tax is run by Kansas Republican Party operatives.

Brownback, a Republican, will announce his tax plan on Wednesday during his State of the State speech. Brownback has said he wants to cut the state income tax, saying that will spur economic growth.

But Democrats and some Republicans contend the proposal will shift the tax burden to low- and middle-income families or result in a cut in services or both.

By Scott Rothschild

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Big battle expected in Legislature over Brownback’s tax plan

Douglas County legislators on Monday provided a preview of what may be one of most contentious debates in the 2012 legislative session — a proposal by Gov. Sam Brownback to decrease the state personal income tax.

Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City, the leading Democrat in the Senate on tax issues, said elimination of the personal income tax, which provides nearly one-half of state budget revenue, will result in increases in local sales and property taxes, shifting the tax burden from the wealthiest Kansans to the middle class.

But Rep. TerriLois Gregory, R-Baldwin City, said states that have reduced their state income tax have seen economic growth. She said Boeing Co., which announced its Wichita defense plant closing last week, left Kansas for two states that do not have a state income tax.

Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, however, said Boeing’s decision was unrelated to taxes. Boeing executives said they were closing the plant because of defense budget reductions and a need to reduce costs.

The legislators’ comments came during a Lawrence Chamber of Commerce meeting just hours before the start of the 2012 legislative session. Those legislators attending the chamber event were senators Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, and Holland, and representatives Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, and Gregory and Mah.

Brownback, a Republican, has said he wants to reduce the state personal income tax, but has not provided details. His office has said he will unveil the tax plan during his State of the State speech on Wednesday.

Brownback and his supporters have argued that Kansas hasn’t kept pace with the economic growth of fast-growing states like Texas and Florida, which have no state income tax.

But Holland argued Texas has oil revenue and Florida, tourism to offset the absence of a state income tax. And, he said, in terms of public school systems and social services, those states “don’t measure up to Kansas. We have a lot of good things in Kansas.”

Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, told the audience that he considered himself a moderate Republican but that the so-called conservative wing of the party controlled the House and lined up behind Brownback.

He said it will be up to a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats in the Senate to provide adequate funding for education and social services.

Brownback’s school finance proposal also would eliminate “weightings,” which provide extra funding to cover the cost of educating students who have additional needs, such as learning how to speak English or those at risk of failing. Brownback said the elimination of the weightings will give districts more flexibility in how they allocate resources.

By Scott Rothschild

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Advocates urge slowdown on part of Brownback’s Medicaid overhaul

Health care advocates on Thursday criticized a plan by Gov. Sam Brownback to turn over management of services for those with disabilities to for-profit companies.

"We really need to have this process slow down," said Sharon Spratt, chief executive officer of Cottonwood Inc.

Brownback and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer are moving to overhaul Medicaid, which is the state and federally funded health program for those with disabilities, the elderly and low-income residents.

Medicaid covers approximately 350,000 Kansans at a cost of nearly $2.8 billion.

Brownback wants to contract with private managed care companies to handle the program, calling it KanCare. Companies are scheduled to submit their bid proposals by the end of the month.

The Brownback administration has promised that KanCare “will improve coordination of care and services to achieve better outcomes and long-term savings without reducing benefits or eligibility, while safeguarding reimbursements for providers.”

But unlike most other states that have adopted the managed care model, Brownback also wants to add services for those with developmental disabilities.

That has raised alarms in organizations such as Cottonwood that provide services to people with developmental disabilities.

Spratt and other service providers spoke with members of the Douglas County legislative delegation. The meeting was being held in preparation for 2012 legislative session which starts Monday.

Spratt said there is no model in the nation where managed care companies have succeeded in meeting the long-term needs of people with severe disabilities.

"These individuals are not `sick,' but have life-long disabilities, and with adequate supports can enjoy a full and meaningful life," she said.

State Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, and other legislators, said they have heard numerous questions about the Medicaid proposal and planned to seek answers at hearings during the session.

"Everybody is concerned," Ballard said.

Representatives of other area organizations said they hoped that with state revenues running approximately $300 million more than projected, legislators would help restore funding for services that have been damaged by budget cuts over the past couple of years.

Stacey Hunter Schwartz, executive director of Independence Inc., said there are 3,369 persons with physical disabilities on a waiting list to receive assistance that would keep them in their homes and avoid having to be place them into more expensive nursing home care.

"In the name of saving money, we are actually spending more," she said.

By Scott Rothschild

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Absentee voting concerns raised under new law

An election law written by Secretary of State Kris Kobach that requires photo identification to vote and other restrictions is raising new concerns about absentee voting.

Under the law, county election officials must decide whether the signature on a request for an advance ballot matches the person’s previous signature that could be on a voter registration form or another type of identification.

If it doesn’t, the election official must make an effort to contact that person to give them another attempt at signing the application.

But Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, said the law and its accompanying rules and regulations failed to prescribe how much of an effort the county election official must make to track down the potential voter and clear up the dispute.

“This gives a lot of leeway to the election officer,” Trimmer said.

He said many times, people who request advance ballots will be difficult to reach because they requested an advance ballot knowing they would be elsewhere around the time of the election.

Legislators said there could be good reasons that a person’s signature requesting an advance ballot looks different from a previous signature. The person’s ability to sign their name could be affected by age or illness, they said.

But Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican who pushed for the new law, said he believed Kansas’ county election officers would make a good faith effort to ensure those who are eligible to vote will receive an advance ballot.

Rep. Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City, however, wasn’t assured. “My level of discomfort is getting higher and higher,” Winn said.

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said his office sometimes receives signatures on advance ballot applications that don’t look the same, and he contacts the applicant.

He said it is usually a situation where a husband signs for a wife or vice versa and once they are contacted they make the necessary correction, he said.

Shew said in his discussions with other election officials he was confident they will “go above and beyond” to ensure that no one who is eligible to vote is denied the opportunity cast a ballot.

But, he said, that during presidential elections, which have the heaviest voter turnout, “your ability to follow up may be affected by how much is on your plate at that moment.”

In 2010, nearly 30 percent of all votes cast statewide, including 18 percent in Douglas County, were in advance, according to the secretary of state’s office. In 2008, the last presidential election, that percentage was 36.8 percent statewide, or 464,822 votes, and 32.7 percent in Douglas County, or 18,207 votes.

Kansas is among a handful of states that have approved laws requiring photo identification to vote and other requirements. But Kobach said Kansas has done more than any other state “to close loopholes on advanced voting.”

Last month, the U.S. Justice Department rejected South Carolina’s law requiring voters to show ID at the polls, and a similar law in Texas is under review. The Justice Department said the South Carolina law could suppress the voting rights of minorities.

By Scott Rothschild

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