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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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Brownback says higher sales tax needed in case state loses school finance lawsuit

Topeka — Gov. Sam Brownback continues to try to build his case for making the 6.3 percent state sales tax permanent, instead of letting it fall to 5.7 percent.

On Friday, Brownback said the state may need revenue from the higher levy in case of a ruling against the state from the Kansas Supreme Court on funding of public text

"We've got a lawsuit pending against the state right now that we have lost at the lower court on K-12 funding, and we don't know when the Supreme Court is going to rule — it's under mediation now — but I think you have got to also be also looking at that in the overall picture," Brownback said.

In 2010, facing a revenue crisis, the Legislature approved a temporary, three-year increase in the state sales tax to 6.3 percent from 5.3 percent, and then decreasing it to 5.7 percent on July 1.

Brownback wants to keep the rate at 6.3 percent, saying the revenue is needed to balance the budget. He has said in recent days that the higher sales tax is required to prevent cuts proposed by the House and Senate to higher education.

Democrats oppose extending the higher rate because they say current budget problems are the result of Brownback signing into law last year income tax cuts, which they say benefit mostly the wealthy. link text In addition, they said that Brownback wants to use future sales tax revenue to cut income taxes even more. Conservative Republicans in the House have also voiced opposition to the higher sales tax rate, saying the budget should be cut more.

But on Friday, Brownback added the issue of school funding to the mix.

In January, a three-judge panel ruled that legislators must increase spending on schools by at least $440 million. The issue is pending before the state Supreme Court.

Brownback said legislators have to consider the impact that a possible final ruling against the state would have on the budget and how the state would come up with additional revenue for schools.

"You could get yourself where you'd be in a crisis position, and I don't think that's prudent," Brownback said.

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The fight over sales tax has consumed Kansas politics for three years

It's amazing how much of the political fighting in Kansas is wrapped up in one penny that most Kansans pay every day without a fuss. Of course, the penny adds up to approximately $300 million a year, and is key to state budget and tax policy.

The one-cent increase in the state sales tax approved in 2010 is scheduled to decrease July 1.

The one-cent increase in the state sales tax approved in 2010 is scheduled to decrease July 1. by Scott Rothschild

During the Great Recession, Kansas saw historic drops in tax revenue that resulted in cuts to higher education, Medicaid and public schools.

In 2010, to avoid even deeper cuts, a slim majority of Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Legislature approved a temporary one-cent sales tax increase to shore up the state budget.

Under the plan, the state sales tax went from 5.3 cents per dollar to 6.3 cents per dollar, and on July 1, 2013, the sales tax rate would then decrease to 5.7 cents per dollar with 0.4 cents going to transportation.

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce had vehemently opposed the tax increase, and after the Legislature approved it the chamber worked hard during the campaign season to defeat those who voted for it.

When the smoke cleared after the November 2010 elections, conservative Republican Sam Brownback was elected governor by a large margin and the moderate coalition in the House was crushed.

As the 2011 legislative session started, many conservative Republicans said they wanted to repeal the increased sales tax. But Brownback didn't; the state budget was still struggling and he needed the revenue.

And the Kansas Chamber of Commerce adopted a new strategy, arguing against repeal by saying the revenue from the increase should be used to offset the loss of revenue from what it wanted: elimination of the state corporate income tax.

In 2012, Brownback called for making the increased sales tax permanent to help pay for income tax cuts. He later signed into law cuts in income tax rates, elimination of income taxes for the owners of nearly 200,000 businesses, and removal of tax credits for the poor. But nothing was done on the sales tax issue.

In 2013, the Legislature is still arguing about the temporary sales tax increase, which is scheduled to decrease in a little over two months.

Again, Brownback wants to make the 6.3 percent rate permanent, saying it is necessary to balance the budget and avoid cuts to higher education. Democrats want to protect funding for education, but say Brownback really wants to keep the sales tax higher to cover deficits created by his income tax cuts and to help pay for more income tax cuts in the future to benefit the wealthy. Meanwhile, conservatives in the House also said they want the sales tax to decrease and that the budget can be cut more. Conservatives in the Senate have gone along with Brownback's plan on the sales tax issue, saying it is key to start drawing down the income tax. In fact, many of those Senate conservatives who voted against the temporary sales increase, recently voted to make it permanent.

So, the penny has come full circle. It started as a temporary Band-Aid approved by a moderate coalition to avoid drastic budget cuts.

Now, it is being pushed by a conservative governor, who wants to make it permanent to be used for either propping up the budget that was undercut by large income tax cuts, or to pay for future income tax cuts, or both.

When the Legislature returns, the fight over one penny will be front and center again.

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Brownback wants interim study on higher education

Topeka — Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday said he wants the Legislature to conduct an in-depth study of public higher education in Kansas.

Brownback's comments came as he lobbies fellow Republicans to keep higher education funding at current levels and reject proposed cuts. The GOP-dominated Legislature has proposed a 4 percent budget cut in the House and 2 percent in the Senate.

Brownback said he would like legislative leaders to initiate a study on higher education after the current legislative session is over.

"What I hope we do is a big interim study on higher ed funding," Brownback said.

He said the cause of rising tuition, how funds are allocated and administrative costs are "all legitimate questions." But, he said, resolving those issues is difficult in an 80-day legislative session.

Brownback will start a tour next week of various higher education institutions to push for his budget plan. He said universities, community colleges and technical schools need stable funding after having been cut during the recession.

He said the way to provide stable funding would be making the 6.3 percent state sales tax permanent. Under current law, it will decrease to 5.7 percent on July 1.

Democrats say Brownback plans to use revenue from the higher sales tax to further reduce income tax rates. When asked about that, Brownback said of the Democrats, "If they've got another place to come up with the resources, I'd love to see it. I would hope that they would vote for it too."

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Left- and right-leaning finance experts say Kansas tax changes worst in country over past two years

The tax changes approved last year with only Republican support and signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback are being called the worst tax measures passed by a state in the last two years.

That's according to an article in Governing magazine link textthat quotes right- and left-leaning financial experts.

Exempting from taxes pass-through income for business owners provides "an incentive to game the tax system without doing anything productive for the economy," said Joseph Henchman with the Tax Foundation.

Nick Johnson with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the tax package "fails both vertical and horizontal equity tests." And he said the size of the cut was so "jaw-dropping" it will prevent the state from making investments in education and infrastructure.

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Brownback launches Kansas River Development Committee

Topeka - Not a good day weather-wise to showcase the Kansas River, but Gov. Sam Brownback and an enthusiastic group of supporters of the Kaw braved chilly winds Thursday to launch an effort to increase recreational use along the 173-mile river.

From left to right Brian Leaders of the National Park Service, Roger Wolfe of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, and Gov. Sam Brownback talk Thursday after a news conference held on a boat ramp to the Kansas River.

From left to right Brian Leaders of the National Park Service, Roger Wolfe of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, and Gov. Sam Brownback talk Thursday after a news conference held on a boat ramp to the Kansas River. by Scott Rothschild

"The Kaw is a tremendous asset," Brownback said during a new conference announcing the formation of the Kansas River Development Committee.

Advocates of the Kansas River are hoping to get more people canoeing and kayaking, camping on sandbars, fishing and watching wildlife along the river.

"This is just another step in something great that is happening," said Brian Leaders, landscape architect with the National Park Service.

Last year, the National Park Service designated the river as a National Water Trail.

Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Secretary Robin Jennison said there are 18 boat ramps in 15 communities along the river. Jennison said he would like to see at least two more ramps along the 30 or so miles between Belvue and Topeka. Thursday's news conference was held at Kaw River State Park.

Here is a promo that Brownback and then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar did last year about the Kansas River.

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