Topeka Republicans in Congress introduced a bill this week to overhaul the federal tax system, prompting praise from the all-Republican Kansas congressional delegation and dire warnings from Kansas Democrats who call it a repeat at the national level of Gov. Sam Brownback's recently repealed tax experiment.
“After working on overhauling our tax code for several years, this is truly a significant moment," 2nd District. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, of Topeka, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee handling the bill, said in a news release. "The release of this tax reform legislation is a major step towards fixing our broken tax code and making it fairer and simpler for all."
Third District Rep. Kevin Yoder, of Overland Park, was equally positive about the bill.
"Tax reform is a critical part of our economic growth agenda, along with reducing harmful regulations and making targeted investments in things like education and research," he said in a statement. "We’re going to work through the amendment process, make this an even better final product, and hopefully bring a bill to the President that makes the tax code more simple and fair, helps create jobs and grow paychecks, and helps working families keep more of their hard-earned money.”
But the plan has drawn immediate comparisons to the tax policies Brownback and his allies in the Kansas Legislature championed in 2012, and which the GOP-dominated Legislature effectively repealed this year in the face of mounting revenue shortfalls and unpopular spending cuts.
For example, the plan would reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to four and double the standard deduction, which effectively erases any tax liability for individuals earning less than $12,000 and married couples earning less than $24,000.
It also drastically lowers, but does not eliminate, as Kansas did, taxes on certain kinds of nonwage business income from partnerships, limited liability companies, sole proprietorships and other types of "pass-through" entities.
And it drastically reduces the corporate tax rate.
However, there also are major differences with the Brownback tax policies. Most notably, the congressional plan does not include future, automatic cuts in individual rates, setting in motion a "march to zero" income taxes as the Kansas plan did.
Still, Republicans in Washington are using strikingly similar language to what was used in Kansas in promoting the plan.
Whereas Brownback initially touted his plan as a "shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy," President Donald Trump has called the GOP plan, "rocket fuel for our economy."
That similarity wasn't lost on Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, who on Thursday joined congressional Democrats in Washington to denounce the plan.
"The Kansas tax experiment was an utter and complete failure that almost bankrupted our state," he said.
Ward blamed the tax cuts for an extended period of revenue shortfalls that forced cuts in education funding and highway spending, as well as increases in other forms of taxes. But he also went further, blaming the tax cuts for other recent breakdowns in state services.
"We've had a prison riot, two prison riots last summer, and what was the most appalling because it hit home so close, the department in charge of protecting our abused and neglected children lost — lost — 74 of those children last year," Ward said.
But 1st District Rep. Roger Marshall, of Great Bend, echoed the GOP assertion that the tax overhaul would boost the economy.
"Our hardworking American taxpayers and local businesses deserve tax relief, and this is a huge step in that direction," he said in a statement posted on his website. "Doubling the standard deduction while allowing those same families to file their taxes on a postcard will make it so Kansans can spend that time and money as they see fit."
And 4th District Rep. Ron Estes, of Wichita, said the bill would provide financial relief for middle-income families.
“This bill will allow hard-working families across Kansas to keep more of the money they’ve earned and will dramatically boost our economy," he said in a statement. "A typical family of four earning $59,000 will get a $1,182 tax cut under this bill. That's money that's desperately needed by families saving for their children's education or for their retirement."