Leaders say Democrats won't help GOP on taxes
By JOHN HANNA
TOPEKA -- Democratic leaders in Kansas said Friday their party's legislators aren't going to be pushed by potential budget problems into voting for Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal to cancel a scheduled decrease in the state's sales tax -- and won't support much else GOP leaders are pursuing on taxes.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka and House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence criticized Brownback for trying to position Kansas to phase out personal income taxes. They argued such a move will benefit wealthy taxpayers and undermine funding for education and other government programs.
Brownback wants to follow up on massive individual income tax cuts enacted last year by reducing rates further during the next four years. But the state must stabilize its budget, and Brownback is proposing to keep the sales tax at 6.3 percent, rather than letting it drop to 5.7 percent in July, as provided by law.
The governor told reporters Thursday that "budget reality" will push the Republican-dominated Legislature toward keeping the sales tax at its current rate. Hensley said the reality is last year's tax cuts -- which Democrats criticized -- created the budget problems Brownback is trying to remedy.
"I don't feel like I'm in a box," Hensley said during a Statehouse news conference. "My conscience is clear."
House and Senate negotiators expect to meet Monday to continue work on a final version of tax legislation. The Senate embraced Brownback's proposals to keep the sales tax at its current rate and guarantee future cuts in individual income tax rates. The House approved a bill allowing the sales tax to drop, coupled with less aggressive income tax cuts.
Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said the governor hopes legislators in both parties would work to protect core services and try to decrease the state's tax burden. Brownback and many Republicans believe phasing out individual income taxes will spur economic growth and help all taxpayers by creating good jobs.
"Kansas benefits most when all legislators are actively engaged in the policy discussion, instead of sitting on the sidelines," Jones-Sontag said in a statement.
Phasing out personal income taxes would force the state to rely most heavily on its sales tax to finance government. Critics of the idea said poor families tend to pay a higher percentage of their incomes to that tax than do wealthy ones.
"I don't think that a lot of the people, and me included, are interested in sort of putting a lot of lipstick on a pig," Davis said.
"I'm not going to go out and vote for the income tax alternative that's sort of the best of the worst."
Meanwhile, state officials were watching the state's monthly tax collections and blamed a shortfall of nearly $57 million in March on delays in federal tax deadlines forced by congressional wrangling on fiscal issues.
The Department of Revenue reported Friday the state collected almost $364 million in taxes this month when it had expected to take in more than $420 million. But the department noted collections for the fiscal year that started in July are slightly ahead of the state's projection that it would collect $4.24 billion through March.
Congress settled some tax issues in January, forcing the federal government to delay filing deadlines and resulting in later tax collections in Kansas.