Today we run the responses from the candidates for Kansas state representative seats in northeast Johnson County to the third question submitted by our readers.
State individual income tax revenue was again below projections in September collections. Do the continuing shortfalls pose a genuine threat to the delivery of services in the state? When the Legislature convenes in 2015, what steps should it take to address these shortfalls?
Yes, the continuing shortfalls do pose a genuine threat to the delivery of services in Kansas. Another factor that many of us in the Legislature are afraid to mention is that the second part (regarding adequacy of funding) of the Gannon education funding case is still yet to be determined- and this could potentially be a great deal more money than the first part of the Gannon decision (regarding equality of funding). Kansas is in dire financial straits. The decisions that we make in 2015 regarding the budget and taxation are especially crucial. I have always supported a cautious, conservative approach to budget and revenue. As I stated during the Primary election, I would support stabilizing the current tax plan, and would *consider* (Remember, there is a difference between listening to a proposal and voting for it) increases to the tobacco tax. I also think that it is best for the entire legislature to spend more time analyzing and working the budget. So often, most of the budgetary decisions are made only by members of House Appropriations, which leaves a large percentage of the legislature out of that decision-making process. I was shocked and at how little time we spent getting to the details of the budget. I think that that is a big part of the problem with how we do business in Topeka, and I emphatically support rule changes that will open our budgetary process to all legislators, thus allowing them to better represent The People.
As a result of reduced income tax revenue, school districts have been forced to consolidate, and some cities have increased their property taxes to compensate for less revenue. As a resident of Kansas, I want our roads, bridges, parks, and libraries maintained. Medicare and Medicaid need to be adequately funded, and our workers paid a fair wage. I am happy to pay taxes in order to provide for the general welfare and make Kansas an inviting place for businesses and families. I would like to see a more graduated income tax code and a revision of some of the tax exemptions that tend to benefit the wealthy and the large corporations. The current sales tax has been useful, but it is a regressive tax. As a Representative I would work to revise the tax code and eliminate some tax exemptions.
Out knocking on doors I heard some of the most disturbing stories about the funding for government services. I heard about people still struggling to find affordable healthcare, students facing crippling student loan debt, and stories of overworked social workers with the largest caseloads they had ever seen. All of these issues are of vital importance to our community and are deeply affected by budget cuts. It is absolutely absurd that we are facing all of these troubles and we are not even asking everyone to pull their own weight in taxes. While the rate at which individuals should be taxed is debatable and should be looked at the the broader sense of the state budget, the people who are responsible for paying income taxes should not be up for debate. We all have to pay our fair share, not just some of us.
The status of our state bank account stretches beyond a “genuine threat” and has stretched into the level of “crisis”. Revenues for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 were down approximately $670 million and for FY 2015 are already down over $350 million. The shortfalls have led to two Moody downgrades of our bond ratings. As revenues plummet, our expenses remain and are significantly higher than our receipts. Services in this state, including education, mental health, our prison system, and so many others, depend upon the revenue stream generated by our tax structure. Good government includes fiscal responsibility, and thus the”crisis” label as revenues continue on this sharp downhill slide.
We have cut over $1 billion from the State General Fund Budget since I have been in office. Addressing this self-imposed budget shortfall will require an evaluation of our current tax structure. Examples of changes that could occur include freezing the income tax march to zero, increasing tobacco taxes, re-evaluation of deductions offered by the state and elimination of any or all of them. Solutions should NOT include more cuts to education. My hope is that there will be an honest attempt to include all voices at the table to find solutions that involve compromise. That would require a change in philosophy of our leadership…and a change that I will be pushing for!
We need to more of an effort to attract business into the state of Kansas. Governor Brownback’s tax plan tells business that Kansas is open for business and I as a legislature must spread that word and position. It’s also necessary to look at a long term plan of how to make state government more cost efficient and to not burden the Kansas taxpayers. We need to get costs under control and then find innovative ways to fund the core responsibilities of government while encouraging business development to grow jobs and grow the tax base, so we can keep taxes low and still fund core responsibilities while providing for as much local control as possible on other matters.
That is a fantastic question. First, the continuing shortfalls do pose a genuine and serious threat. These shortfalls are the reason for 3 credit downgrades for the state of Kansas by Moody’s and Standard & Poors. I support Paul Davis’ first step plan to freeze further tax cuts. I do not think we can starve our services, without hurting more Kansans.
Sam Brownback’s 2012 ‘tax experiment’ has created an unnecessary but very real budget crisis resulting in the repeated downgrading of our state’s credit rating, and will end in disaster if the current tax formula is allowed to continue.
Ongoing and projected revenue shortfalls pose a real threat to the delivery of all services, and especially the funding of education in Kansas.
The 2015 Legislature will have to take a hard look at our budget and make some very difficult decisions. In my opinion, education and other essential services already have been cut to the bone. It is unjust to keep breaking the promises we have made to our children and the most vulnerable people in our community in order to line the pockets of special interests with an unnecessary income tax cut.
Sam Brownback’s ‘tax experiment’ needs to be repealed. Short of that, I believe we will have to look at what pieces of the tax plan we can successfully repeal in order to prevent impending disaster.
For starters, I would look at repealing the portion of the tax plan that ties future income tax cuts to revenue growth. If state revenues happen to grow more than two percent, then the additional tax cuts triggered would only serve to deepen our fiscal crisis.
We had a fair and balanced tax system that raised sufficient revenue and paid for our schools and other needs for decades. Then Governor Brownback and his allies set off a nuclear bomb. The tax burden has been unfairly shifted to the middle class and the poor in the form of higher sales and property taxes. If elected, I will work to restore the “three-legged stool” of fairly distributed income, sales & property taxes that served us well for years.
Yes, the continuing shortfalls pose a clear danger to the ability of the state to deliver essential services. With each passing month, the budget hole grows deeper. According to the most recent budget profile provided by the Legislative Research Department (done in August) we are projected to have an ending balance of only $29 million on July 1, 2015. With additional August and September shortfalls of $22 million factored in, we are down to $7 million in the bank on July 1 provided we meet estimates for the rest of the fiscal year. No business owner can ignore the bottom line, month after month. In the face of continuing losses, the smart business owner makes adjustments to respond to market conditions. When the 2012 tax bill was signed into law, flaws were acknowledged both by the proponents and the governor, and promises were made to close some loopholes in the bill. Ensuring that we address those structural problems in the law will help restore balance to the system. When we return in 2015, we must take time to reassess – we simply cannot ignore the economic indicators, the credit downgrades that increase the cost of borrowing, and the deep cuts already made to our state budget. The decisions we will be called upon to make will not be easy, and will require us to set aside partisan interests and re-election fears in order to do what is right for our state. In the words of President Dwight Eisenhower, “The opportunist thinks of me and today, the statesman thinks of us and tomorrow.” When re-elected, I pledge to continue to keep the best interests of our state, and the future of our children, in mind.
Tomorrow: Johnson County has been the economic engine of Kansas, delivering a substantial portion of the state’s tax revenue. What are the most effective steps the state could take to make sure that Johnson County continues its track record of economic productivity?