Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax plan and anti-union legislation advancing through the Statehouse dominated discussion Saturday at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce’s first Eggs and Issues meeting of the 2013 legislative session.
Democratic legislators said Brownback, a Republican, was driving state finances into the ground by pushing through massive income tax cuts last year and proposing more this year.
Brownback has said the cuts will boost economic growth and put more money into the pockets of Kansans. He has said he wants to eventually eliminate the state personal income tax, calling it a “glide path to zero.”
But state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, and the ranking minority member on the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee, said, “There is no glide path to zero. From a budgetary standpoint, this is crash and burn.”
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, handed out a state budget profile produced by the nonpartisan Kansas Legislative Research Department that shows Brownback’s tax plan will produce a $781.5 million budget shortfall within five years.
Davis said that shortfall would occur even assuming that Brownback’s proposals are approved to extend what was supposed to be a temporary sales tax increase, eliminate mortgage interest and property tax deductions for homeowners, realize savings from the privatization of Medicaid, and the state experiences 4 percent annual tax revenue growth.
“What we have here is a pretty awful budget situation,” Davis said, which he blamed on last year’s tax cuts signed into law by Brownback that reduced income tax rates and eliminated income taxes for 191,000 business owners.
Now, Davis said, Brownback “wants to double down” with more income tax cuts.
Republicans have downplayed the Legislative Research budget profile, saying that it doesn’t take into account job growth that will result from the tax cuts. They also say the 4 percent growth projection for state revenues is less than what the state is currently experiencing.
On the issue of anti-union legislation, the Douglas County legislative delegation was asked about House Bill 2023, which has been approved by the House and now goes to the Senate where it is expected to pass.
The bill would prohibit the Kansas National Education Association and public sector unions from automatically deducting voluntary contributions from employees and using those funds for political advocacy.
Republican supporters of the measure said it was needed because some teachers felt pressured to donate to political causes they didn’t support. Opponents said no examples of undue pressure had been shown.
State Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, whose district includes part of Douglas County, said the next anti-union bill to surface in the Legislature is House Bill 2123, which would eliminate paycheck deductions for union dues and make collective bargaining optional.
On the issue of judicial selection, state Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the governor more power in picking appellate judges was going nowhere in the House.
“There are not sufficient votes in the Kansas House to pass a constitutional amendment to change the way judges are selected and appointed,” Sloan said.
Proposed constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate before they can be placed on the ballot for voters to consider.
In the 125-member House, that would require 84 votes.
Others speaking at the Lawrence Chamber meeting, which was held at the Alvamar Country Club, were state Sen. Marci Francisco and state Reps. Barbara Ballard and John Wilson.