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Archive for Saturday, November 4, 2006

Growing economy draws interest

November 4, 2006

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— Budget experts on Friday said that Kansas' strong and growing economy would increase state tax collections by $300 million.

The new economic figures immediately became fodder in the race for governor.

"This is more good news for our state and evidence the hard work of Kansas workers and businesses is paying off," said Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who is seeking re-election. "Our economy looks poised for continued growth and job creation, which will put more money in Kansans' pockets."

But Republican challenger Jim Barnett, a state senator from Emporia, had a different opinion. The Kansas economy still lags those of other states, Barnett said, and that to maintain long-term economic health, the state needs to enact tax cuts.

"Now more than ever is the time for our state to control spending and begin returning those tax dollars to the people who earned them," he said.

The Consensus Estimating Group met to revise the revenue estimate for the current fiscal year, which will guide budget priorities for the 2007 legislative session, which begins in January.

The group increased the state revenue fund estimate to approximately $5.6 billion for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2007. That is $300 million more than the last fiscal year.

The group attributed the revenue increase to solid growth in individual and corporate income tax collections, and sales tax revenue.

Sebelius' budget director Duane Goossen and Alan Conroy, director of the Kansas Legislative Research Department, said the rising tax revenues reflected a growing economy.

"This is very good news," Goossen said. "More people are working ... they're making more money."

The health of the state economy and whether the state will be able to afford a new school finance plan have been major issues in the race between Sebelius and Barnett.

Barnett has said the new school funding increase of $466 million over three years would drive the state into debt in future years.

Sebelius disagrees: "I've said all along that a commitment to good schools is a commitment to a growing economy. This growth will help us keep the commitment made to our kids these last two years which will, in turn, help attract more jobs and families to Kansas."

Barnett said that even if the new figures provided enough to finance the school plan, the state economy still would need to grow to handle other needs, such as deferred maintenance at universities, the next highway plan and a shortfall in the public retirement system.

"We need to re-evaluate our tax policy," he said.

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