Tim Carpenter
December 7, 2016

Topekan Dan Brennan didn’t have to say a word Wednesday to express desire for overhaul of Gov. Sam Brownback’s income tax policies.

The T-shirt Brennan wore to the “Rise Up Kansas” coalition’s unveiling of a tax reform scheme openly declared his opposition to the 2012 bill signed into law by Brownback shielding 330,000 business owners from state income tax and eliminating the upper income tax bracket for some of those same people. The shirt’s said: “HB 2117 – Brownback Roadmap to Ruin.”

“We’ve got to raise taxes and cut spending,” Brennan said. “I’d hate to be a legislator.”

In January, the 2017 Legislature and the governor must come to terms with a projected $350 million revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year. Size of the problem has been officially known since early November. Brownback has declined to make immediate spending reductions and indicated willingness to wait until the Legislature, with its 59 new members, convenes next month.

In absence of an alternative, a coalition of five advocacy organizations recommended a package reinstating the 6.45 percent upper income tax bracket, eliminating the business owner exemption from income taxes, raising the gasoline tax by 11 cents per gallon, reducing the sales tax on food by 1.5 percent and repealing a law committing future growth in income tax revenue to buying down individual income tax rates.

The plan would add an estimated $820 million to the state’s bottom line when fully implemented in the upcoming fiscal year while trimming grocery taxes by $100 million annually.

Rally participant Kathryn Evans said the strategy developed and embraced by the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, Kansas Action for Children, Kansas Contractors Association, Kansas-National Education Association and Kansas Organization of State Employees was imperfect, but amounted to progress in dealing with emergency and structural budget problems.

“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” Evans said. “You’re never going to get a perfect package.”

Joan Wagnon, a former Democratic legislator in Topeka and one-time secretary of the Kansas Department of Revenue, said members of the Legislature could find enough in the plan to view it as a potential path forward. Anyone who believes the state’s budget can be balanced without substantially elevating taxes, slashing spending or reducing the government’s payroll is delusional, she said.

“There may be individual parts that some might object to, but on balance it’s fair. It will do the job of raising tax revenue. I love the third tax bracket. When they went to two brackets they destroyed the progressivity of the income tax and destroyed their ability to raise money,” Wagnon said.

Sister Therese Bangert, representing the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, said lawmakers must avoid gutting the state’s earned-income tax credit because it provided a modest benefit to low-income families. Over the years, she said, budget crisis after budget crisis had diminished the state government’s ability to assist families in need.

“So many of the safety-net programs have been cut back,” Bangert said.

Nortonville resident Michael Caddell, who campaigned unsuccessfully for a Kansas House seat in an old Ford truck with signs calling for impeachment of Brownback, said the emphasis of tax reform ought to be on legislation significantly raising the income tax on the most wealthy of Kansans.

“I’m going to take the truck up there regularly. I’m going to park the truck so he can see it,” Caddell said.

Caddell said he would urge lawmakers dismiss talk of a gasoline tax increase and have the courage to apply to the richest 1 percent of Kansas residents a 13.5 percent income tax rate. In 2012, he said, the top 1 percent in Kansas earned an average of $1.09 million.

“A hard-and-fast taxation of the top 1 percent income is the immediate remedy,” said Caddell, who was featured in campaign ads holding a double-barrel musket and lost the November general election in the 47th District.

Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal here.

KendraTOPEKA CAPITAL JOURNAL: Capitol rally participants look to bite bullet on tax reform