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.
At the Lawrence chamber meeting, city, county and school district priority statements for the 2012 session were distributed.
The common priority of all three was for Brownback and the Legislature to stop shifting state funding responsibilities to the local level.
The Douglas County statement said: “First, please do everything you can to avoid hurting local governments any more than they are already hurting. Second, when further cuts to state government are proposed, please ask the question whether the proposed cut will merely shift cost to government at the local level.”
Because of state budget cuts over the past three years, the Lawrence school district has cut more than $8.5 million.
“The Lawrence school district has major concerns with the state’s inadequate, pre-2000 levels of funding for public schools and the governor’s proposed new school finance plan, which is also based on these same funding levels,” the district said.
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. But the Lawrence school district administration maintains that the loss of weightings will make it easier for state and local officials to de-emphasize those programs that address those students’ needs.