Groups representing Kansas teachers, state workers, contractors and others are proposing a tax overhaul they say would solve the state’s budget problems. The plan would undo some tax cuts made in recent years by raising the top income tax rate. It also would reinstate income taxes on hundreds of thousands of businesses.
Former Kansas Budget Director Duane Goossen and others revealed the tax plan Wednesday in Topeka. Goossen said the tax cuts have hurt the state’s ability to invest in needed services and the proposal would reverse that.
“It’s a plan that will stabilize state government across the board, so we can pay for things like a 50-year water plan, fully staffed mental health hospitals and Highway Patrol officers in all Kansas counties,” he said.
The proposal also would raise the gas tax, but it would cut the sales tax rate on food to help low-income residents.
Annie McKay, with the group Kansas Action for Children, calls tax cuts pushed by Gov. Sam Brownback a mistake. She said fixing the state’s budget challenges won’t be “easy or politically convenient.”
“We have to go back and look at the changes that were made, the cost of those changes and balance those things back out,” she said. “The cost of fixing the disaster from the Brownback tax plan is not small.”
A spokesperson for the governor, Melika Willoughby, called the changes “tax and spend proposals.” She said the plan would hurt middle-class Kansans.
“They are the receptionists, the nurses, the police officers and other members of the working middle class who work hard every day to put gas in their tank and money in their pockets to provide both for themselves and their families,” Willoughby said.
Kansas lawmakers have struggled to balance the budget since income tax reductions were approved in 2012. Kansas lawmakers face a budget shortfall approaching $350 million in the current fiscal year and an even larger shortfall the following year.
The current year's $350 million shortfall amounts to more than 5 percent of the overall $6 billion state general fund.
The tax proposals wouldn’t start generating revenue until next fiscal year, so they wouldn’t fix the state’s immediate budget shortfall. Goossen said lawmakers need to put a long-term solution in place before making short-term fixes for the current budget year.
— Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio.