By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT
A grassroots bipartisan coalition opposed to Gov. Sam Brownback's tax policy is continuing its statewide outreach and education efforts as the Nov. 4 election approaches.
Named after the title of the governor's economic vision, Reroute the Roadmap opposes how he has structured income taxes. The policy has shifted the state's financial burden of governing to the local level, said Joan Wagnon, former Kansas secretary of revenue and Reroute member.
"There are unintended consequences to the tax plan that is currently in place, and those unintended consequences are severe revenue shortfalls that will cause us not to fund schools and rural health, and it is also going to raise property taxes in rural areas," Wagnon said.
The coalition focuses on Kansans' "bedrock concerns," she said. The members scrutinize the state's fiscal conditions, rural communities' wellbeing and public school funding.
Reroute asserts the tax cuts have unbalanced the three-legged stool of public revenue that relies on property tax, income tax and sales tax.
According to the group's data, schools have $548 less for each student than they had six years ago. Districts are confronted with seeking more funds from property taxes or making cuts.
"When people make policy and they don't think about what its consequences are across the state and in local communities, that's a problem," she said.
H. Edward Flentje, professor emeritus at Wichita State University and Reroute member, said he surveyed the first three years of Brownback's term to gauge tax trends on the county level.
"As the state started backing out of some of its commitments in education, arts, mental health, community corrections and probably a dozen areas, what local officials have been faced with because they've relied on that state support is either dropping those programs, cutting back or saying, 'Hey, we want these services to continue,' and stepping up," Flentje said.
His research states total property taxes for 25 northwest county governments increased 24 percent from 2010 to 2014 as the statewide rate rose 13 percent. Total property taxes for schools increased 26 percent in those counties as the statewide rate rose 8 percent.
The study did not account for other factors possibly influencing the levels on an individual county basis.
"I conclude from this that this tax experiment is falling most heavily on rural counties," Flentje said.
The group visited Colby earlier this week and will continue to travel the state. Visit www.rerouteroadmap.org for more information.