Opposition increases to Brownback tax plan, KPERS changes

? Pushback increased Tuesday against two major initiatives sought by Gov. Sam Brownback on taxes and public pensions.

Kansans for Quality Communities called Brownback’s plan to phase out the state income tax and limit state spending “radical and troubling.”

The coalition of educators, religious groups, advocates for those with disabilities and others, said Brownback’s plan would shift the tax burden onto the poor and starve services of needed funds.

“We urge more careful attention be given to tax policy,” said Shannon Jones of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas. “We call for fairness and equity for all Kansans,” she said.

Brownback’s tax plan was getting kicked off before the House Taxation Committee after a presentation from Jonathan Williams, director of the tax and fiscal policy task force for the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Like ALEC, Brownback has called for reductions in state income taxes and elimination of taxes for thousands of businesses. His plan would also do away with numerous tax credits and deductions and keep in place the 6.3-percent state sales tax rate that under current law is set to decrease to 5.7 percent in 2013.

Brownback has said the plan will spur economic activity, moving Kansas “ever closer to the pro-growth states with no state income taxes — which are among the country’s strongest economic performers.”

But Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association and member of Kansans for Quality Communities, said Kansas schools, roads and social services are in good shape because of the state’s balanced tax approach of income, sales and property taxes.

Desetti said states such as Texas and Florida that don’t levy state income taxes have oil and tourism revenue that Kansas doesn’t.

The Rev. Tobias Schlingensiepen, of Clergy Concerned, said Brownback’s tax proposals had “a moral problem” by eliminating provisions aimed at helping the working poor, such the Earned Income Tax Credit.

On another front, a potential major change to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System is being considered by legislators.

In the face of projected financial problems for KPERS, a study commission has proposed a new “hybrid” system for non-vested employees and new hires that will be funded through a 6 percent employee contribution. Brownback supports the commission recommendations, saying the transition to a defined contribution system is more like most private sector jobs.

But Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said the recommendations don’t make sense. She said it will cost the state more to transition to the new plan, won’t address the unfunded liability problem, and leave retirees with reduced benefits.

“There is no way that any one can look at the facts and conclude that it is in anyone’s interest,” Kelly said.