Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Legislature makes no progress; Brownback leaves state to tout tax cuts

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

As the Kansas Legislature on Monday remained deadlocked over taxes and spending, Gov. Sam Brownback went to Chicago to tout his income tax cuts.

Speaking at a $40-per-plate luncheon put on by the Illinois Policy Institute, Brownback was focused on the tax cuts he signed into law last year, and his proposal to phase out the income tax entirely.

Brownback's absence from the Statehouse was trumpeted by his staff as an opportunity for the governor to try to lure businesses from Illinois to Kansas.

But Democrats, who have said Brownback's tax cuts have benefited mostly the wealthy and put state finances in jeopardy, criticized the Republican governor.

“Kansas taxpayers are already bearing the burden of the governor’s unfair tax plan. Now, they’re footing the bill for each day the Legislature continues to work on cleaning up Brownback’s mess — and he’s not even here to help," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.

"The fact that he (Brownback) is out of state touting a plan that has wreaked havoc on Kansas is a pretty clear example of the governor’s misguided priorities and failed leadership," House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said.

The event in Chicago was titled "There's no place like home. A conversation with Kansas Governor Sam Brownback."

The Illinois Policy Institute said Brownback "has proven to be an innovative reformer seeking to expand liberty in the Sunflower State." It noted that Brownback enacted the largest income tax cut in Kansas history and is seeking more cuts. Last year, Brownback signed into law cuts in income tax rates and eliminating income taxes paid by about 190,000 business owners. Brownback has said the cuts will boost the economy and produce jobs.

The Illinois Policy Institute describes itself as a nonpartisan organization dedicated to supporting free market principles and liberty-based public policy initiatives.

Meanwhile, back in Topeka, Brownback's tax policies were keeping legislators in session as House and Senate Republican leaders remained at an impasse.

On July 1, the 6.3 percent state sales tax is scheduled to decrease to 5.7 percent. But Brownback and Senate Republican leaders want to keep it at 6.3 percent, using the increased revenue to help balance the budget and buy down future income tax cuts.

House GOP leaders want the sales tax to fall to 5.7 percent, but have offered a 6 percent compromise. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, has rejected that offer.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said he was still awaiting a counteroffer from the Senate.

"It's hard to negotiate if there is not a counteroffer," Merrick said. He accused Senate leaders of switching positions on what should be agreed to first — taxes or a budget — and failing to put any offers in writing. "It's a disservice to the citizens of this state to operate like this," he said.

Wagle sent a two-page letter to all House Republicans, trying to persuade them to make permanent the 6.3 percent state sales tax.

Neither of the House-Senate conference committees on the budget or taxes met Monday, which was the 87th day of a legislative session that Wagle and Merrick had said earlier would be completed in 80 days.

On the budget side, the biggest difference between the House and Senate is on proposed cuts to higher education.

The House has called for a 4 percent cut, while the Senate wants a 2 percent cut.

The House's top budget writer, state Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said he believed the two sides would agree to a cut between those two figures, but he declined to elaborate.