Some Senate Republicans did some heavy lifting on Friday for private gyms by voting to give them a property tax exemption.
State Sen. Jeff Melcher, R-Leawood, said it was unfair that for-profit private health clubs paid property taxes, while non-profit YMCAs and YWCAs were exempt from those taxes.
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka, however, said the YMCAs and YWCAs do public service work, while private health clubs don't.
Hensley handed out information that showed many supporters of Melcher's amendment received campaign donations from the owner of Genesis Health Clubs.
"The people who write the checks, end up writing the laws," Hensley said.
Melcher responded, saying, "It's a shame a taxpayer has to expend so many resources to get tax fairness." His amendment giving private health clubs a property tax exemption was approved 21-17. The underlying bill dealt with a long-running dispute over taxes paid by a concrete company.
State Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, tried to exempt Douglas County from the amendment, saying that there were no YMCAs or YWCAs in the county. "I'm not going to let foolish special-interest tax policy unfairly shift the tax burden onto other commercial and residential property owners in my district," he said. But his amendment was rejected.
Brownback’s former tax consultant criticizes federal minimum wage as ‘black teenage unemployment act’
Art Laffer, the $75,000 consultant who helped shape Gov. Sam Brownback's tax changes, called the federal minimum wage "the black teenage unemployment act."
While on Fox News on Wednesday, Laffer said the minimum wage "makes no sense to me."
He added, "I mean, honestly, it's just the teenage — black teenage unemployment act, and this is the very groups that we need to have jobs and not be put out of work because of the minimum wage."
Laffer argued that more teenagers would be hired if employers could pay them less than the $7.25 federal minimum.
His comments were made during a discussion on the possible extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.
In 2012, Laffer, who is considered the father of supply-side economics, was hired by the Brownback administration for $75,000 for consulting work on the governor's tax plan.
Laffer championed Brownback's plans to cut income tax rates, eliminate credits and deductions and rely more heavily on the sales tax.
At the time, Laffer also supported Brownback's plan to end the state portion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps low-income, working Kansans. Later, Brownback backed off that proposal.
In a question-and-answer period on Wednesday with the Kansas Board or Regents, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback provided some insight into the end of the 2013 legislation session in June in which Republican legislative leaders demanded cuts to the universities and Brownback accepted those cuts.
Brownback said at the end of a legislative session, "Often you're crowding everything into a chute, and we're going to get this done tonight — this is going to happen tonight, and then things happen and it doesn't always come out exactly the way your wanted it to come out. And things get traded here and there to get something on through the final process."
Brownback said perhaps the perception from legislative leaders was that higher education could handle the cuts. "You have a lot places you get money from, and maybe you can handle this, whereas other places don't have the options," he said.
On the final day of the session, Republican leaders mustered enough votes within their caucuses to pass a state budget that cut universities 3 percent over two years and to push through a tax package that increased the state sales tax while reducing deductions and racheting down income tax rates.
Brownback has made phasing out the state income tax one of his major goals.
Brownback has praised GOP legislative leaders, but has vowed to fight for restoration of the cuts when the 2014 session starts in January.
Topeka — In all the furor over various tax proposals in the Legislature, one that has caught the attention of some legislators is reducing the state sales tax on groceries.
People who buy their groceries in Kansas are paying the second-highest state sales tax in the nation on groceries.
According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, 45 states charge a state sales tax. Of those, 31 exempt groceries from the state sales tax.
Of the other 14 states, seven charge a portion of the state sales tax on groceries, and seven, including Kansas, apply the entire state sales tax on groceries. Of those seven, only Mississippi has a higher state sales tax: 7 percent. The state sales tax in Kansas is now 6.3 percent.
If the Kansas sales tax decreases to 5.7 percent, as current law states, Kansans will pay the third highest state tax on groceries behind Mississippi and Idaho, with a 6 percent tax.
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.
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.
Topeka — Senate Republicans on Wednesday proposed a 6.25 percent state sales tax rate and a 5.7 percent rate on food.
House Republican leaders said they would come back later this afternoon to tell the Senate what they thought of the plan.
The current state sales tax is 6.3 percent, but is scheduled to fall to 5.7 percent on July 1.
Republicans say they need to keep the sales tax higher to shore up state coffers — depleted by last year's income tax cuts — and to buy down more income tax reductions over the next six years. Democrats say the income tax cuts benefit the wealthy and will reduce revenue needed for essential state services.
Under the latest Senate proposal, itemized deductions would be eliminated over six years, except for charitable contributions. The standard deduction would also be cut to $5,000 from $9,000 for head of household, and to $6,500 from $9,000 for married filing jointly.
By 2018, income tax rates would be cut to 3.5 percent from 4.9 percent on the top rate, and to 2.5 percent from 3 percent on the bottom rate.
Agreement on tax changes is essential to getting movement on a state budget. Legislators are in the 89th day of the session. Earlier, GOP leaders said they wanted to finish the session in 80 days.
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
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.
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 schools.link 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.
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.