Topeka Gov. Mark Parkinson is playing his cards close to the vest on whether he will recommend a tax increase to help solve a budget crisis that has already resulted in record spending cuts.
But Kansas Secretary of Revenue Joan Wagnon, a member of Parkinson’s Cabinet, has gone public big-time in telling anyone who will listen that the state needs to change its tax system.
Wagnon, a former legislator and mayor of Topeka, has been championing a state advisory council’s recommendation to repeal some sales tax exemptions that cost the state $200 million and implement a moratorium on giving away tax breaks, which have been liberally granted in recent years.
Coming from a member of the governor’s Cabinet, Wagnon’s efforts would seem to indicate tacit approval from Parkinson.
“At this point, Governor Parkinson is evaluating all the options for his 2011 budget proposal,” said Parkinson spokeswoman Beth Martino.
The 2011 budget is what the Legislature will work on when the 2010 session starts in January.
Wagnon said that she is acting independent of Parkinson but that he knows what she is doing.
“But I don’t have any reason to believe that if we got this thing (the advisory council recommendation) passed he wouldn’t sign it; I’m not going to put anything out there that is going to get me fired,” she said.
Wagnon is a political veteran who was selected by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2003 to be secretary of revenue. She remained in that post earlier this year, when Parkinson was promoted from lieutenant governor to governor after Sebelius was chosen by President Barack Obama to lead the federal health and human services department.
Because of the worst revenue crisis since the Great Depression, Parkinson has cut the state budget on his own twice, and earlier in the year the Legislature implemented several other cuts. Parkinson has indicated he doesn’t want to cut any more — but that leaves open the question of how to bridge the budget shortfall.
The lines are being drawn between those seeking more cuts and those seeking repeal of tax exemptions or other tax changes to increase revenue.
Derrick Sontag, Kansas state director of the anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity, said recently more budget cuts are needed.
“It’s our hope once the legislative session starts, that the governor doesn’t bow to the demands of taxpayer-funded lobbyists calling for tax increases in this difficult economic time for Kansans, but that he is willing to take an even closer look at our state expenditures and propose additional cuts where necessary,” Sontag said.
Wagnon said, however, the Legislature needs to debate tax policy.
And, she added, “When the governor puts his budget together, he will make his choice on what direction he will recommend. Those will be my marching orders, but right now I am working pretty independently.”