Thursday, April 26, 2012

Senate Republican leaders say Kansans want property tax relief, not income tax cuts

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

As legislators today resumed the 2012 session, Gov. Sam Brownback reiterated his call for significant tax reform but a trio of legislative leaders in his own party say Brownback's proposal is not what Kansans want.

In an interview with the Lawrence Journal-World, Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, Senate Vice President John Vratil, R-Leawood, and Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, R-McPherson, said the public is not supportive of Brownback's desire to phase out the income tax.

Emler said when he has coffee meetings with constituents in his district, no one expresses a desire to cut state income taxes. "They're asking about property taxes being lowered," he said.

And they want some of the state's growing surplus — now projected at more than $600 million — to be used to restore some of the school funding that has been cut over the past several years.

The three leaders shared results of a poll of 600 likely Republican voters that was taken statewide before the start of the legislative session in January.

Asked which tax they would like to see reduced or eliminated, 45 percent of those likely voters said property taxes; 27 percent, income taxes; and 16 percent, sales tax.

Asked what should be done with the surplus, 38 percent said restore previous cuts to services such as education; 35 percent said save a portion in a rainy day fund; and 17 percent said cut taxes.

Asked which cuts should be restored first, schools got 34 percent; infrastructure/highways, 20 percent; services for the elderly and those with disabilities,16 percent; services for children and low-income families, 8 percent and public safety, 7 percent.

"There is just no public outcry to reduce the income tax," said Vratil.

Brownback's plan cuts individual income tax rates and exempts 191,000 partnerships, sole proprietorships and other small businesses from any income taxes on their business earnings.

To offset the loss of revenue to the state, the plan would eliminate tax credits and deductions and keep the state's sales tax at 6.3 percent instead of dropping it to 5.7 percent in July 2013 as scheduled.

In public statements, Brownback has pushed hard for the elimination of the non-wage income taxes for the wide range of businesses, comparing it to shooting adrenaline to the heart.

In a column published as legislators returned for the wrap-up session, Brownback wrote, "Now the Legislature has the opportunity to enact significant tax reform and prevent another lost decade of economic decline.

"Empowered by a tax policy that is built on liberty and rewards hard work, we can accelerate economic growth, create well-paying jobs, increase family and community stability, and reduce the number of children living in poverty.

But the three Senate leaders said they would rather see enacted a bi-partisan plan passed earlier by the Senate that would provide $180 million over four years to local governments to buy down property taxes.

Several of the tax cutting proposals in a House-Senate conference committee would remove too much revenue from the state, the three leaders said. That House-Senate conference committee picks up its work today.