Gov. Sam Brownback’s signing of the new Kansas Tax Act on Tuesday was a historic event. The act will shape the lives of Kansans for many years to come.
The nonpartisan Legislative Research Department has estimated that the act will reduce Kansas government revenues by $4.5 billion over the next six years. Inevitably, there will be major reductions in the government services Kansans have come to expect — especially education.
Equally important, the act dramatically changes the Kansas tax system, shifting the income tax burden from the wealthy and prosperous to working people. The act provides that all income of business owners is tax-free (except in the unusual case where a regular corporation is used). Although the act was promoted as a boost to small business, there is no limit on the size of business that can be exempt from tax.
Income of professionals — such as doctors, lawyers, architects, and accountants — practicing in partnerships will be tax-free. In a law firm, for example, the partners will pay no tax, while the clerical staff will continue on the tax rolls.
Income received from partnerships and trusts will be tax-free. Wealthy Kansans who own real estate, stocks, bonds and other investments will simply transfer those assets to a partnership or trust, thereby freeing all their investment income from tax.
All income of farmers will be exempt from tax.
Who will still be paying Kansas income tax? Only three groups: 1) employees, 2) some retirees and 3) individuals whose investments are so modest that they cannot afford to create a trust or partnership to shelter their investment income.
Kansas government relies on three taxes: property, sales and income. Property and sales taxes are regressive in the sense that a lower-income person pays more of these taxes as a percent of income than does a higher-income person. The new income tax will be dramatically regressive. Low- and moderate-income workers will remain on the tax rolls. Meanwhile, wealthy Kansans will readily escape the tax, and many prosperous (but not wealthy) Kansans will be able to evade the tax as well. Beginning in 2013, the Kansas tax system will be among the most regressive in the nation.
Can a just society tax the poor while not taxing the rich?