Tim Carpenter
October 30, 2016

A statewide poll captured a reservoir of discontent with Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature income tax exemption for business owners, frustration with the Kansas Legislature’s handling of public school finance and majority support for expansion of Medicaid eligibility to low-income people.

The survey released days before the Nov. 8 election by the nonpartisan Docking Institute of Public Affairs showed two-thirds preferred escalating taxes on large corporations and top-income individuals to address the state’s budget shortfalls.

Only 9 percent considered the state’s economy to be in very good or excellent condition, while 28 percent cast it as poor or very poor. One-fourth were very concerned about future economic turmoil threatening their family, an increase from last year’s poll, in which 19 percent sensed that peril.

Seventy percent of respondents were convinced Kansas was barreling down the wrong track — twice the number who were confident the state was traveling the correct path.

At the same time, the report affirmed Kansans were confident in fundamental security of elections. Deep division of opinion exists about motivation for state laws requiring proof of citizenship when registering and presentation of an official photo identification to cast a ballot.

Four in 10 said they were more likely to vote for a political candidate if that person were Christian, and 56 percent said accumulation of college loan debt was a real problem in Kansas.

More than 1,000 individuals taking part in the survey took measure of major policy questions generating debate in Kansas and passed judgment on Brownback and other key political figures, the Legislature and the Kansas Supreme Court.

The Legislature was viewed more favorably than Brownback, but respondents in the red state of Kansas held Democratic President Barack Obama in higher esteem than either the Legislature or the governor. Sixty-two percent in the new poll were very dissatisfied with Brownback, up from 48 percent one year ago.

“Kansans have rarely found themselves in such perilous political times, with several years of fiscal instability in the state budget and a national election where voters must choose between two highly controversial and unpopular presidential candidates,” said Gary Brinker, director of the Docking Institute at Fort Hays State University.

In terms of tax policy, 61 percent supported repeal of the 2012 income tax exemption Brownback and conservative Republicans granted more than 330,000 farmers, lawyers, accountants, physicians and other owners of limited liability companies, S-corporations and sole proprietorships.

Brownback considered the business exemption and lowering of individual income tax rates a formula for job growth and economic expansion. He has said modest results of the tax reforms reflect sharp downturns in energy and agriculture sectors rather than changing tax law. Critics of the tax program contend the adjustments, including a statewide hike in the sales tax, were inequitable.

“The experiment, which primarily benefitted the wealthiest Kansans, did not trickle down to middle- or low-income Kansans,” said Duane Goossen, who worked as budget director for three Kansas governors.

The poll showed 62 percent were convinced lawmakers ought to target tax increases at large corporations. To a lesser extent — 59 percent — a spike in taxation should reside with people with the largest incomes. Only 21 percent favored tax hikes on small businesses, while 7 percent thought the middle class ought to assume a greater tax obligation.

Fifty-one percent would choose to raise the state income tax, with 30 percent favoring higher property taxes and 25 percent preferring increases in sales tax. Only 26 percent of Kansans shared support for taxing agriculture property at the same rate as residential or commercial property under a plan floated by a few urban GOP legislators.

Nearly seven in 10 respondents said their combined income, property and sales tax burden had risen in the past two years.

In addition, one-third of Kansans prefer to balance the budget exclusively through reduced spending. Another one-third were certain tax increases were the answer. Majorities were generally hostile to curtailed state spending, but 33 percent would accept lower expenditures on highways and bridges, 25 percent would go along with cuts to higher education and 10 percent would agree to cut K-12 education.

“It is common for voters to oppose both spending cuts and tax increases simultaneously, leaving policymakers in the lurch,” said Michael Smith, a political science professor at Emporia State University.

On other issues, 64 percent opposed abortion in most or all situations, but more than nine out of 10 said the procedure was justified to save the life of the mother. Eighty-six percent would grant consent to victims of rape or incest. Two-thirds would allow an abortion if there was evidence the fetus would have serious health problems. Eighty-six percent recoiled at justifying abortion because a woman faced financial hardship raising a child.

Bishop John Brungardt, who serves the Diocese of Dodge City, joined with other Catholic leaders in Kansas to urge voters to shape political preferences on the “human rights catastrophe” of abortion through application of church principles.

It is a moral obligation for Kansans to respond at the ballot box to laws enabling more than 1 million abortions annually in the United States, he said.

Sixty-two percent in the Docking Institute poll supported to some degree expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Women and Democrats were more likely to embrace the idea, with men and Republicans taking a contrary position.

Brownback and GOP political allies have successfully blocked legislation in Kansas extending Medicaid benefits to an estimated 150,000 low-income people. Thirty states adopted programs to extend eligibility for Medicaid as the federal government paid more than 90 percent of the cost.

Lee Kinch, chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party, said failure to improve access to Medicaid in Kansas was “perhaps the issue which best illustrates the callous indifference of Brownback and his allies to the plight of the disadvantaged.”

Three-fourths answering the survey said they were at least somewhat dissatisfied with the Legislature’s work on K-12 school finance. The Supreme Court, viewed favorably overall by a majority in the poll, is preparing to rule on appeal of a district court finding the state system of distributing aid to districts was unconstitutional. The poll found 43 percent were either somewhat or strongly dissatisfied with the high court’s handling of school finance cases.

Sixty-nine percent in the poll said school districts ought to rely more in the future on appropriations from the state treasury. Thirty-one percent shared a preference for higher local property taxes for public schools.

The survey revealed 71 percent had confidence that voting procedures in Kansas were transparent and verifiable. Half were of the opinion the proof of citizenship and photo ID provisions in state law were designed to prevent fraud. Forty-two percent said the stricter requirements were implemented to make it more challenging for some eligible voters to cast ballots.

The poll showed 38 percent were supportive of the 2015 law eliminating the training and licensing mandates in Kansas for people to carry concealed handguns in public buildings. More than half said they were opposed to the diminished regulation of concealed firearms, despite overwhelming support for so-called “constitutional carry” by the House and Senate.

Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal here.

ClayTOPEKA CAPITAL JOURNAL: Kansas poll exposes preference for raising state taxes on wealthy, big business