Monday, April 1, 2013

Senate advances cut to Earned Income Tax Credit to help homestead property tax refund program

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

The Kansas Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to a bill that cuts $42 million from a tax credit for low-income working families and gives the money to low-income homeowners.

Supporters of House Bill 2060 said it would help homeowners on fixed incomes and those with disabilities.

State Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg, said the measure was "a shot in the arm" in property tax relief.

But opponents said the measure pitted one group of poor people against another.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said the bill takes "money from the least among us to give money to the least among us."

The measure was advanced on voice vote, and will be up for a final vote Tuesday. Republicans, who hold a 32-8 majority in the Senate, defeated all attempts by Democrats to amend the bill.

More than 200,000 Kansas families receive the EITC and the average state portion is $389 per household.

The bill would cut that credit nearly in half, reducing the Kansas EITC from 17 percent of the federal credit to 9 percent. That would cut $42 million.

Those revenues would be used to expand the Homestead Property Tax Refund program by raising the income threshold from $32,400 to $34,400, and increasing the maximum refund amount from $700 to $1,200.

Supporters of the bill said that change would provide property tax relief to seniors on fixed incomes, those with disabilities and low-income families.

They also said the Kansas portion of the EITC program would still exist and even at its lower rate would still be higher than most neighboring states.

But Democrats said the homestead program only benefits homeowners, while most families receiving the EITC are renters.

And Democrats said the only reason Republicans were pitting low-income groups against each other was because of what they said were irresponsibly large income tax cuts for the wealthy signed into law last year by Gov. Sam Brownback.

"This is wrong," said state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, "We are taking away money from our working poor to give to our struggling homeowners, and try to pat ourselves on the back like we are doing something."

The package of income tax cuts passed last year also included repeal of several programs aimed at helping poor people, including the food sales tax rebate, property tax refunds for renters, and child care tax credits.