Mailers on Kan. tax cuts go out ahead of election
By JOHN HANNA
TOPEKA -- The Kansas Department of Revenue is mailing brochures to 146,000 business owners about state income tax cuts enacted earlier this year, prompting a Democratic leader to criticize Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's administration for sending the mail just days before the state's general election.
State House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence accused the Brownback administration of using state tax dollars on electioneering. One side of the blue, gold and white brochure touts the cuts as making the state's income tax system "fairer, flatter and simpler" and quotes a Wall Street Journal editorial, "What's Right with Kansas."
Spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda said the department began mailing the brochures Wednesday and spent $52,000 on printing and postage.
But she said the agency did not coordinate the work with the governor's office. She said department officials sought to respond to questions they've frequently received from business owners while traveling the state and used an "eye-catching" design to make sure the brochure was read.
She said the department wanted to get the brochure to business owners as quickly as possible, so they could consult with their accountants and tax advisers before the tax cuts take effect in January. Koranda said the agency has been working on the brochure since mid-September.
"If we waited another week, most people would be getting them around the middle of the month. November has Thanksgiving. December has Christmas," Koranda said. "You're getting into the holidays. People get busy."
The mailings were first reported by the Topeka Capital-Journal (http://bit.ly/Sj4bRV ). Davis scheduled a Statehouse news conference for Friday with Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon, a former state revenue secretary.
The second side of the brochure says the tax cuts apply to more than just business owners and lists other provisions. After listing and answering questions related to the business tax cut, it says Brownback and legislators sought to "help Kansas families and small businesses keep and reinvest more of their own hard earned money."
"The timing of this is, I think, very inappropriate," Davis said.
The income tax cuts have become a key issue in legislative campaigns, with Democrats criticizing them as reckless. The state will reduce individual income tax rates, drop the top tax rate to 4.9 percent from 6.45 percent and increase the standard deductions claimed by married couples and heads-of-household. The state also will exempt the owners of 191,000 partnerships, sole proprietorships and other businesses from taxes.
Legislative researchers have estimated that the cuts will be worth $4.5 billion over the next six years. But the researchers also project that the cuts will create collective budget shortfalls approaching $2.5 billion during the same period -- something the brochure doesn't mention.
"They're spending tens of thousands of dollars trying to promote their political agenda, just a few days before an election," Davis said. "It's poor timing to say the least, and a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars."
Kansas law prohibits the use of state funds and resources for electioneering.
But Carol Williams, the executive director of the state Governmental Ethics Commission, noted that the ban applies when someone seeks to "expressly advocate" the election or defeat of "a clearly identified candidate to state office or local office." The brochure mentions Brownback, who isn't on the ballot, and the Legislature, but not members or groups within it. It doesn't mention the election.
Koranda said the brochure counters confusion about the tax cuts and dismissed Davis' criticism as unwarranted.
"It was definitely an attempt to do an educational outreach," she said.
Kansas Department of Revenue: http://www.ksrevenue.org/
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