Sunday, April 14, 2013

Lawrence legislators say they hope Kansans will turn the tide on current policies

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Lawrence legislators on Saturday expressed pessimism about the state budget and tax situation, but said they were optimistic that Kansans will eventually reject the conservative Republican policies that dominate the Kansas Legislature.

"People in Kansas will figure out that this model, which has never worked anywhere else, isn't going to work here," House Democratic Leader Paul Davis said at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's Eggs and Issues event.

Davis was referring to tax changes signed into law last year by Brownback that cut state income tax rates, eliminated income taxes for the owners of nearly 200,000 businesses, and removed credits aimed at helping low-income Kansans.

This year, Brownback has called for the permanent extension of the 6.3 percent state sales tax, which was supposed to decrease to 5.7 percent on July 1, elimination of homeowner tax breaks, and further income tax cuts.

Brownback has said cutting income taxes will boost the economy, while Democrats say the cuts benefit the wealthy at the expense of low-income Kansans and key state functions, such as education and social services.

The 2013 Kansas Legislature is on a month-long break before it will return May 8 to work on a state budget and tax plan.

The massive tax cuts from last year are causing legislators to scurry for revenue sources to balance the budget.

At the chamber forum held at the Holiday Inn Lawrence Hotel and Convention Center, legislators said cuts to higher education, raids on the state highway program, and continuation of the temporary sales increase were all in the mix.

At one point, the legislative panel was asked in a written question from an audience member if they could "recommend a nice state to move to."

The legislators said Kansans who disagree with the current policies need to get involved in the political process.

"We can't necessarily continue to rely on form letters and Facebook posts," state Rep. John Wilson, a freshman Democratic legislator, said. "We really need to find ways to push back."

State Rep. Tom Sloan, a moderate Republican, said if the current economic and political climate remains for the next two or three years, Kansas will see big changes in what state government provides.

He said higher education will become more privatized like in Colorado, and the public education and mental health systems will be trimmed back. He said funding for the arts and public broadcasting will also "go away."

State Sen. Marci Francisco, a Democrat, said the current state budget problems are directly linked to cuts in taxes.

"This is a situation we put ourselves in because we decided we didn't need revenue," she said.