Kansas governor talks tax policy with Missouri lawmakers

? Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback touted his income tax policies Wednesday during a visit to Missouri’s capital city, telling Republican legislators and business groups there that “the seeds of growth” are starting to sprout in his state despite a projected budget shortfall approaching $600 million.

The optimism Brownback exuded in Missouri conflicted with the reception his latest tax plan was getting back home from a former supporter. The CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, who worked closely as a legislative leader to pass the first round of income tax cuts in 2012, criticized the governor’s new plan to slow future income tax cuts and increase tobacco and alcohol taxes to help erase the shortfall.

Brownback spoke during a luncheon at a Jefferson City hotel that was sponsored by business groups and the conservative group Grow Missouri, which is backed primarily by wealthy political donor Rex Sinquefield. Although the event was closed, he told The Associated Press afterward that he touted his state’s successes through its tax policies.

“I don’t pretend to have advice for Missouri,” Brownback said.

His tour of Missouri, which will include a stop in St. Louis on Thursday to speak with the Show-Me Institute, comes as Kansas faces an impeding budget crisis.

Budget problems arose after Brownback successfully pushed Kansas lawmakers to cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 in order to stimulate the economy. The state dropped its top rate 29 percent and exempted 281,000 business owners and 53,000 farmers from income taxes altogether.

Still, Brownback said the budget “will be balanced.” Brownback’s latest proposals don’t abandon those two key reductions but jettison most of the future cuts in rates lawmakers promised and modify the formula for determining when taxes drop further in the future. Legislative researchers estimate the changes would raise $73 million during the next fiscal year and nearly $1.5 billion over five years.

“We do have a (state) constitutional requirement to balance the budget,” former state Rep. Richard Carlson, now a legislative liaison for the Kansas Department of Revenue, told a Kansas tax committee Wednesday. “You can either reduce expenditures, increase revenues or a combination of both.”

The proposals drew criticism from Mike O’Neal, the Kansas Chamber’s president and CEO. O’Neal took the Chamber post in 2012 after serving as state House speaker and helping engineer passage of the tax cuts.

“We encourage you to look at the budget side and the spending side before we succumb to the siren song of just raising new revenues,” O’Neal said.

Dozens of Missouri lawmakers attended the Wednesday lunch to listen to Brownback’s ideas, including some of Missouri’s lead budget writers, Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey and House Speaker John Diehl.

Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Sen. Kurt Schaefer of Columbia said the governor had “some really compelling numbers.”

Poplar Bluff Sen. Doug Libla called it a long-term plan, but said it so far seems successful.

“It’s a process that’s going to take a while for it to kick in,” Libla said, “but it’s doing what they want it to do.”