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Brownback running for re-election

Topeka — Gov. Sam Brownback is running for re-election.

A message recently sent to supporters seeks to raise funds for the 2014 election.

"With your help, we're turning Kansas around," the message from Brownback says.

Brownback, a Republican elected in 2010, says he turned a projected budget deficit into a surplus, increased private sector jobs and cut taxes.

"It's been a lot of work, but it's been worth it. Now is the time to protect and build on our achievements," he said.

Democrats have argued that budget shortfall problems were fixed primarily through the passage of a sales tax increase before Brownback took office, and that Brownback's tax cuts benefit the wealthy and will hurt funding for education and social services.

But no Democrat has announced an intention to take on Brownback in the governor's race.

David Kensinger, who is president of Brownback's political action committee, today said, "The Governor is running for re-election and is actively raising funds and mobilizing grassroots supporters.There has not been a conventional announcement tour per se, but he is a candidate for re-election with an active committee."

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Inadvertently sent Kansas Department of Revenue email shows expectation of revenue gain in May

TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback's administration expects tax revenue gains for the month of May, according to an email inadvertently sent Friday to the Lawrence Journal-World.

The email, from Chad Bettes, who is a high-ranking official in the Kansas Department of Revenue, to Sherriene Jones-Sontag, spokeswoman for Gov. Sam Brownback, even includes a prepared comment from Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan. The actual revenue numbers were to be filled in later Friday.

Earlier Friday, Jordan urged House Republicans to break an impasse during the current overtime legislative session and approve measures that increase the sales tax but lower income tax rates. He said lowering income taxes would stimulate the economy. While higher sales taxes hit the poor hardest, he said the state spends $3.5 billion a year on safety-net programs for low-income Kansans.

Here is the email from Bettes to Jones-Sontag. The subject heading said, "Please advise of changes and/or approval":

Planning to send the numbers out between 4 and 4:30 p.m. -- State Tax Receipts Total $XX.X Million in May TOPEKA – May tax receipts exceeded estimates by $XX million, or XX percent, buoyed by one-time revenue attributed to taxpayers who accelerated income in advance of federal tax increases enacted earlier this year. Individual income receipts were $XX million more than anticipated, or XX percent, for the month. The increase over the estimate was due in part to balance due payments for 2012 income taxes, which were processed in late April and early May following the annual tax filing deadline. “It is important to be cautious when looking at these numbers because federal tax hikes proposed at the end of last year and passed in January likely influenced taxpayer behavior as people worked to ensure that income would be taxed at 2012 rates,” said Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan. “We have reaped the benefit of that at the state level in April and May, and now we expect things to return to more normal levels.”

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NAMI report says Medicaid expansion would help thousands of Kansans living with mental illness

Topeka — More than 21,000 uninsured Kansans with mental illness would receive needed treatment, and lives would be saved if Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature expanded Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, a new report says.

So far, Brownback, a vocal opponent of the ACA, and his Republican colleagues in the Legislature are going in the opposite direction.

Brownback has declined to sign on to Medicaid expansion, and a pending House resolution says the Legislature isn't interested in expansion.

But the National Alliance on Mental Illness urged legislators to increase the number of people eligible for Medicaid, saying that would strengthen the mental health care system.

Nationwide, the expansion would provide treatment to 2.7 million uninsured people living with mental illness, the NAMI report said. NAMI, the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization, said that currently fewer than half of Americans with mental illness receive treatment.

"In Kansas, 21,293 currently uninsured adults who live with mental illness would become eligible under Medicaid expansion," said Rick Cagan, executive director for NAMI Kansas. "This represents 13.2 percent of the overall uninsured population in the state. That would be a big step forward. It will help save lives,” said Cagan.

The report says that Medicaid expansion would be a good deal for the states because the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost through 2016 and taper to no less than 90 percent of the cost by 2020. Kansas would get $5.27 billion in federal funding over 10 years, and save $149 million in uncompensated care, NAMI said. "When mental illness isn’t treated, costs get shifted to emergency rooms and the criminal justice system,” said Cagan. “Families break up. Taxpayers end up paying avoidable costs," he said.

Currently, Medicaid provides health care coverage to about 380,000 Kansans. The largest portion of them — about 230,000 — are children. The rest are mostly lower-income, pregnant women, people with disabilities and elderly people. The $2.8 billion program is funded with federal and state dollars.

Medicaid in Kansas doesn’t cover low-income adults who don’t have children. And a nondisabled adult with children is eligible only if his or her income is below 32 percent of the poverty level, which is approximately $5,000 per year. That is one of the toughest eligibility standards in the country.

But starting in 2014, the ACA creates an eligibility level of 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $15,415 per year for an individual and $26,344 per year for a family of three.

Estimates are that upwards of 150,000 more Kansans would be covered under the expansion.

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GOP tax plans would increase taxes on low-wage Kansans, decrease taxes for high-income Kansans, report says

Topeka — Taxes will increase for low-wage Kansans and decrease for those with higher incomes under plans being considered by Republican state legislators, according to a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy looked at the various proposals before the Legislature that essentially increase the state sales tax while ratcheting down the income tax and reducing deductions.

ITEP report on proposed tax changes before the Kansas Legislature.

ITEP report on proposed tax changes before the Kansas Legislature. by Scott Rothschild

Currently, the state sales tax of 6.3 percent is scheduled to decrease to 5.7 percent on July 1. But Gov. Sam Brownback wants to keep the rate at 6.3 percent, saying that will stabilize the state budget and help buy down income tax rates.

A Senate GOP plan to keep the rate at 6.25 percent, while lowering income tax rates, would result in a tax increase for 60 percent of Kansans, making $60,000 per year or less, the ITEP analysis shows. Of that group, the largest percentage increase would be for those making $20,000 per year or less.

But those making more than $60,000 per year would realize a tax cut under the proposals. ITEP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group. Its stated mission is to provide information on tax policies, tax fairness, government budgets and sound economic policy.

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As Legislature remains deadlocked, Brownback in Chicago touting tax cuts

Topeka — As the Kansas Legislature remained deadlocked over taxes and spending, Gov. Sam Brownback is speaking today at a $40-a-ticket luncheon in Chicago before the Illinois Policy Institute.

The event has been titled "There's no place like home. A conversation with Kansas Governor Sam Brownback."

The information about the event says that Brownback "has proven to be an innovative reformer seeking to expand liberty in the Sunflower State." It says Brownback enacted the largest income tax cut in Kansas history and is seeking more cuts.

The Illinois Policy Institute describes itself as a non-partisan organization dedicated to supporting free market principles and liberty-based public policy initiatives. Here is a link to information about the event.link text

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Former Senate president mentioned as challenger to Brownback says he’s not running

Topeka — A possible election challenge to Gov. Sam Brownback by former Senate President Steve Morris has been batted around the Twitterverse recently.

Contacted by phone, Morris, a Republican from Hugoton, said he has no plans to run for governor in 2014, but he added, "In this business, you never want to say never."

Morris said there was been discussion around the state of trying to challenge Brownback, a conservative Republican, with an independent or third-party candidate. He said there is probably no way a moderate Republican could defeat Brownback during the GOP primary because of the strength of conservatives within the party.

Morris said he believes Brownback's income tax cuts are hurting the state.

"The tax plan that the governor engineered last year was a big mistake, and this (Brownback's desire to eliminate the state income tax altogether) would just compound that mistake," he said.

Morris was one of 9 moderate Republican senators who were defeated in the GOP primary in August 2012. The moderates were targeted by Wichita-based Koch Industries and groups loyal to Brownback, such as the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Kansans for Life.

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Leaders plan talks as legislative session grinds on

Topeka — The legislative wrap-up session entered its second week and the major items have yet to be wrapped up.

Gov. Sam Brownback, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, planned to meet Monday to discuss taxes, but for rest of the Legislature there's not much to do.

A lot of resolutions have been passed honoring folks, and on Friday state Rep. Phil Hermanson, R-Wichita, proposed to his girlfriend, Rhonda Riggs, on the House floor. She said yes.

But the major state business — passing a budget and the taxes to support it — have eluded legislators. Still, Brownback was optimistic.

In a two-minute exchange with reporters, he said, "It always takes a lot to finish a session up and that's where we are now."

He said talks with Wagle and Merrick have gone well. "We have excellent leadership, seasoned leadership," he said.

Brownback declined to talk about what was being discussed behind closed doors. And he wouldn't give a time period on when he expected the Legislature to finish.

Monday was the 80th day of the session, and leaders of the GOP-dominated Legislature didn't expect an agreement on tax cuts and a state budget until later in the week.

Brownback and Senate Republicans have agreed to cancel a sales tax decrease from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent scheduled by law July 1. Brownback says revenue from the higher sales tax rate is needed to stabilize the budget and help enact income tax cuts.

House Republicans want to let the sales tax drop and enact less aggressive income tax reductions.

As far as the budget goes, Brownback has called for the same level of funding for higher education as last year, while the House has proposed a 4 percent cut, and the Senate, a 2 percent cut.

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Concerns of those who care for Kansans with developmental disabilities rise as session reconvenes

Topeka — As legislators return Wednesday for the wrap-up session, concerns are rising for those who care for Kansans with developmental disabilities.

Two issues are in play.

One is increased funding proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback to reduce the number of Kansans on waiting lists to get the support they need.

The second issue is whether the thousands of Kansans with developmental and intellectual disabilities should be brought under the new KanCare system to provide their long-term care services.

Parents of those with disabilities support Brownback's proposed $18.5 million funding increase, though many oppose providing long-term care for their children under the privatized KanCare system run by for-profit insurance companies.

But Brownback's administration is saying one would impact the other.

Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said the "continued opposition to including long-term services under KanCare for persons on the I/DD (intellectual and developmental disability) waiver jeopardizes the state's ability to address the waiting lists."

De Rocha points to a fiscal note of House Bill 2029, which would "carve out" long-term care services from KanCare.

That fiscal note, signed by Brownback's budget director Steve Anderson, says the carve-out would increase costs to the state by $9.2 million in the fiscal year starting July 1, and $16.8 million in the fiscal year after that.

As a result, de Rocha said, the ability of the House and Senate to adopt Brownback's increased funding plan "could be impacted by the carve-out."

Tom Laing, executive director of InterHab, which represents groups that provide services to people with developmental disabilities, had a different view of the fiscal note.

Laing said projected costs contained in the fiscal note incorrectly included several factors, including inflation. "We don't get paid higher costs due to inflation. That is a fictional variable that they've thrown in," he said.

InterHab says more than 1,100 Kansans will attend a rally on Wednesday outside the Statehouse calling on Brownback and the Legislature to carve out from KanCare long-term services for the developmentally disabled.

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Tax cuts will reduce state revenue more than Great Recession

Topeka — State tax revenue is expected to decline more over the next fiscal year than it decreased during the three years of the Great Recession, according to new state fiscal estimates.

New revenue figures show that the state will receive $5.454 billion in tax revenue for the fiscal year that starts July 1— a decrease of $745 million from the estimated $6.199 billion in revenue during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

During the recession, tax receipts fell to $5.191 billion in fiscal year 2010 from $5.809 billion in fiscal year 2007. That's a decline of $618 million over a three-year period.

The bulk of the $745 million reduction in receipts over the next fiscal year includes $450 million less in income tax and $270 million fewer dollars in state sales tax.

The revenue estimates are compiled by the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, which includes the state Division of the Budget, Legislative Research Department and three consulting economists from state universities.

Last year, Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law cuts in income tax rates, including exemptions from state income taxes on non-wage income for 190,000 businesses, and eliminating tax credits for low-income Kansans.

In 2010, facing record revenue declines, the Legislature approved raising the state sales tax from to 6.3 percent from 5.3 percent, and then allowing that rate to fall back to 5.7 percent after three years.

Saying he wants to avoid cuts to higher education, Brownback is now pushing to make the 6.3 percent sales tax permanent. Democrats say the tax plan signed by Brownback has produced a fiscal crisis.

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Big revenue decrease projected for fiscal year starting July 1

Topeka — Last week's revenue projections by state fiscal officials showed little change in Kansas' revenue forecast. But budgetary storm clouds are right over the horizon.

The new numbers highlighted that next year state revenue will drop precipitously as the income tax cuts signed into law last year by Gov. Sam Brownback kick in.

The state will receive $6.2 billion in revenue during the current fiscal year that ends June 30. For the fiscal year 2014, which starts July 1, revenue drops to $5.45 billion, a 12 percent or $750 million decrease.

Brownback has stated that income tax cuts will boost the economy.

But House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said the revenue figures show the income tax cuts approved by Republicans aren't working.

"It shifts the tax burden almost entirely to the middle class and requires cuts to the public services that help the middle class thrive. The Brownback tax plan isn't working, and these negative projections are further evidence that it is not going to work in the future," Davis said.

The income tax cuts will reduce revenue to the state by $450 million in fiscal year 2014, which is a 15.8 percent decrease. The state sales tax, which is scheduled to fall from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent on July 1, will produce $270 million less than the current year, which is a 12.3 percent decrease. Brownback has proposed keeping the sales tax rate at 6.3 percent.

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