Gov. Sam Brownback says he intends to overhaul Kansas’ tax code and reduce or eliminate the state income tax as a way to grow the economy. This effort sounds good, but it also has naturally been met with concerns about how the state would fund education, social services and public safety. The governor has not addressed those concerns, and the public has been largely kept in the dark about the task force he has selected to review the state’s tax structure and make recommendations about possible changes.
To try to shed some light on these discussions, the Journal-World made a request on Oct. 11 under the Kansas Open Records Act for access to or copies of minutes, agendas and policy papers of Brownback’s tax group. The Kansas Department of Revenue dragged its feet on responding to the Journal-World’s request, citing its “extensive nature,” then said it would respond by Nov. 30. On Tuesday, Nov. 29, the state told the Journal-World it would not get the information it requested.
The committee and its work remain a mystery.
“To the extent that we have any records called for by your request, they are exempt from disclosure pursuant to K.S.A. 45-221(a)(2), (20),” the state Revenue Department’s Nov. 29 letter stated. That part of the Kansas Open Records law provides an exemption to the law that includes “notes, preliminary drafts, research data in the process of analysis, unfunded grant proposals, memoranda, recommendations or other records in which opinions are expressed or policies or actions are proposed, except (emphasis added) that this exemption shall not apply when such records are publicly cited or identified in an open meeting or in an agenda of an open meeting.”
However, because no meetings of the tax group have been announced or open to the public, work on a potential major change in how Kansas does business — and the names of those working on the plan — apparently will remain secret, at least for the time being.
Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan is heading the effort to give recommendations to Brownback. The former state senator from Johnson County enjoyed a good record as a forward-thinking legislator, and it is hoped he is providing solid, positive advice to the governor. However, to date, he has said nothing about the work other than to indicate the plan would be unveiled before the end of the year. Now, however, the governor’s office has said Brownback’s proposal likely won’t be outlined until his State of the State address to the Kansas Legislature on Jan. 11.
It is hoped that Brownback and his committee members will come up with a fair, sound and workable revised tax code that will be good for the state and all taxpayers. It is unfortunate the public will not learn details of the plan until the governor delivers his address to state lawmakers.