Yesterday’s meeting of the South-central Kansas legislative delegation with citizens featured, in the words of one senator, a level of intensity not seen in previous meetings of this body. Senator Dick Kelsey made this observation, remarking that this is the first such meeting where the two parties have been mentioned. Following are a few notes and observations from this meeting.
Conservative groups and advocates often display a chart showing that Kansas spending increased very rapidly during much of the last decade. Representative Melody McCray-Miller reminded the audience that it is Republicans who have been in the majority of both the House of Representatives and the Senate during this time.
A suggestion by Representative Kasha Kelley that the state could sell some assets to help with the budget was met with disapproval from some members of the audience.
The audience, which was composed largely of advocates for school spending, union leaders and members representing Kansas state government employees, and people needing social services, cheered several times at mentions of raising the state’s sales tax. Suggestions involving cutting spending or other solutions were not met with approval.
Representative Marc Rhoades of Newton, a member of the House Appropriations Committee and vice chair of the Social Services Budget Committee, gave several examples of how some funding for social services has been restored. He said that the committee takes “a lot of pride in working together across party lines.” He added that there is an effort to increase the state’s investigation of fraud. He said that the former Inspector General of the Kansas Health Policy Authority quit. At the time the Wichita Eagle reported that Robin Kempf “said she resigned from the post because agency managers pressured her and interfered with her ability to do her job.”
Representative Jim Ward, however, disagreed with Rhoades’ characterization of bipartisanship, noting that not one Democrat voted for the budget passed out of the committee, and mentioning large across-the-board cuts.
Ward said there is “Fundamental disagreement on values on the state budget.” Some groups — he pointed to material provided by the Kansas Policy Institute — want to cut taxes and let the economy grow. But Ward said that at some point spending cuts will prevent state agencies from fulfilling their mission, mentioning Meals on Wheels and schools specifically.
Ward mentioned another type of spending the state does: “We spent over $12 billion in tax cuts the in the last ten years.”
Senator Les Donovan, who is chair of the Kansas Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee spoke about the tax increase proposals that were heard in that committee. His committee heard several days of testimony on raising various taxes such as the sales tax, alcohol tax, tobacco tax, and creating a new tax on sugar in soft drinks. Donovan “moderated” each of these taxes, proposing to implement them at a lower rate than what was introduced in the bill. But each tax bill failed to make it out of that committee. (See Kansas sugar tax testimony heard, bill doesn’t advance, Tax on beer, liquor subject of Kansas Senate committee hearing, and Kansas tax increases promoted, even by Republicans.)
In his remarks yesterday Donovan listed — from memory — tax cuts that have been made: A cut in income tax rates for single individuals, an increase in the personal tax exemption, elimination of the marriage penalty, removal of the sales tax on residential remodeling, a cut of 15 mills from property tax (both commercial and residential, with close to 80% of the property being residential), removal of income tax on military retirement pay, a reduction in the taxes on automobile registration, creation of an exemption of $20,000 of valuation on residential property taxes, an increase in the earned income tax credit (a program at both the federal and state levels that issues grants to low income families), an increase in the food sales tax rebate program, exemption of social security payments from Kansas taxation for many families, exemption of residential utilities from sales tax, and elimination of the Kansas inheritance tax.
Donovan said that these tax cuts are larger, by far, than the business tax cuts that spending advocates, including Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson, blame in part for the current budget deficit.