Topeka Democratic legislative leaders Friday predicted that Gov. Sam Brownback's massive tax cuts will force harmful state budget cuts. But Brownback's spokeswoman said the tax cuts will stimulate the economy.
"A lot of critical state programs are being put on the chopping block," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence. "Frankly, this is just the beginning, we are just scratching the surface of the kind of cuts that we are going to have to see in the future," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said of the tax cut bill, approved by Republicans in the Legislature and signed into law by Brownback, also a Republican, "I think in reality (it) is going to cause a budget crisis for years to come."
The two leaders noted the Brownback administration's announcement last week that it was shutting down the Kansas Main Street Program, which has helped revive downtown areas in numerous small towns over the past 27 years.
Brownback's spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag disagreed with the Democrat's assessment about the tax cuts. She said the cuts will put more money in the pockets of Kansans, increase economic activity and create jobs.
The state is decreasing its individual income tax rates for 2013, with the top rate dropping to 4.9 percent from 6.45 percent. Also, the state will exempt the owners of 191,000 partnerships, sole proprietorships and other businesses from income taxes.
The Legislature's research staff projects the tax cuts will create collective budget shortfalls approaching $2.5 billion over the next six years.
"I do not understand how the governor can say with a straight face that we are going to get through this without touching K through 12 education, universities, Medicaid," Davis said.
Jones-Sontag said Brownback has vowed to protect "core functions" of government, which he has said are education, Medicaid and public safety.
Democrats have pointed to Brownback's budget office's directive to state agencies to forward spending plans that include a 10 percent funding cut.
But Jones-Sontag described that instruction as a contingency plan should "things beyond our control" upset the state economy. She said the possibility of deep federal budget cuts, economic struggles in Europe and the unknown of tax policies at the federal level could all have a negative impact on Kansas.
Hensley said legislators made tough budget cuts during the recession and when the economy started to slightly improve, the state produced a surplus. But, Hensley said, that was eliminated by the tax cuts.
And, he said, the cuts were unfair to low-income Kansans. The tax cutting package will eliminate a food sales tax rebate program and child care credit. "That is one of the real tragic things about this tax plan," he said.