Tim Carpenter
March 31, 2017 

Statewide polling by a politically moderate organization Friday revealed a majority of Kansans to be deeply troubled tax policies embraced by Gov. Sam Brownback damaged the overall economy and threatened to undercut funding of public schools.

The poll of 700 registered Kansas voters commissioned by the Kansas Center for Economic Growth indicated two-thirds rejected the tax reforms signed into law by Brownback in 2012, including a state income tax exemption given owners of 330,000 businesses. The poll also suggested a majority of registered Republicans — 54 percent — opposed continuation of the governor’s tax program.

“The more Kansans learn about the Brownback tax plan, the more intensely they dislike it,” said Heidi Holliday, executive director of the nonprofit Kansas Center for Economic Growth.

Business and individual income tax reductions adopted by Brownback and the GOP-controlled Legislature five years ago thrust the state into large budget shortfalls because spending wasn’t curtailed sufficiently to match declining revenue. An increase in the Kansas sales tax rate in 2015, an assortment of modest budget adjustments and transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars from highway and pension funds hasn’t resolved the problem.

The 2017 House and Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that would have repealed the business tax break and raised income tax rates, but Brownback vetoed the legislation to preserve the so-called LLC loophole and block expansion of tax brackets.

On Friday, Brownback spokeswoman Melika Willoughby didn’t address the polling but said the governor would continue to work with the Legislature to accomplish goals outlined in his succesful campaigns in 2010 and 2014.

“The voters of Kansas twice sent Sam Brownback to the governor’s office supporting his positions of low taxes, defending the lives of the unborn, commitment to developing a new school finance system that puts Kansas students first and his opposition to Obamacare,” she said.

Brownback, in his State of the State speech in January, said the “purpose of our small business tax cut has been to increase the number of small businesses and increase private sector job growth. That policy has worked.”

However, the firm TargetSmart of Washington, D.C., indicated the new poll showed 83 percent of Kansans felt the governor’s tax policy hurt the Kansas economy, while 64 percent of Kansans supported revocation of the Brownback tax program.

Eighty-five percent of Kansas voters participating in the survey shared concern about the state’s level of spending on public education. The 2017 Legislature is writing a new formula for funneling state dollars to K-12 school districts. Lawmakers have been working on the formula in wake of a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that declared previous aid to be unconstitutional.

“The top takeaway here is that Kansans are dialed in and fired up,” said Duane Goossen, a senior fellow of the Center for Economic Growth and a former state budget director under Republican and Democratic governors. “They want commonsense leadership that will balance the budget, restore funding to Kansas schools and end this era of fiscal crisis for good.”

The governor’s office didn’t respond to a requests for comment about the poll and Goossen’s comments.

In January, Brownback called upon legislators to place on his desk a bill correcting the imbalance between state revenues and expenditures in the current fiscal year’s budget. The House and Senate haven’t agreed on legislation that would close an estimated $280 million shortfall in this budget year nor resolve a shortfall of more than $1 billion through mid-2019.

“With struggles in key sectors of our state’s economy, most notably agriculture and oil and gas, our state government is confronting challenges. Most immediately, we must address the imbalance between state revenues and expenditures,” Brownback said.

The telephone survey of 700 registered voters in Kansas was conducted March 20-22 and had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal here.

Lisa OwenTOPEKA CAPITAL JOURNAL: Kansas poll registers discontent with state tax policy, K-12 funding