Statehouse candidates on the issues: Should Kansas be looking to cut taxes?

Some legislators say Kansas’s high sales tax on food is sending shoppers across state lines.

Voters in several parts of the Shawnee Mission area will in the coming days have the opportunity to select a nominee to represent their party in this fall’s statehouse elections.

Based on input from readers, we developed a five-item questionnaire for the primary candidates on some of the biggest issues facing the legislature. Today we’re running responses to the first item, and will have a new set of responses each day this week.

Here’s item number one:

“In 2017, the legislature largely rolled back the income tax cuts signed by Gov. Sam Brownback. That move came in response to years of below-estimate revenues that prompted several budget cuts. But there’s been a push by some legislators to again introduce new tax cutting measures. What’s your view on the current state of Kansas tax policy? Should the state be looking to cut taxes?”

District 17

Rep. Tom Cox (Republican)

Did not respond

Jim Eschrich

From what I can tell there’s no broad-based appetite for tax cuts. Been there. Done that. That shouldn’t mean, however, that there isn’t room to do more with less. For example, back in 2016 a study was presented to the governor and legislature identifying 105 cost-saving ideas. Over 5 years these savings were thought to add up to $2B. And how many of these ideas have been seriously debated and voted on? Zero. Zip. Zilch. Maybe, just maybe if we prove to taxpayers in this state that we are extremely good stewards of their money, when we come to them in the future and say there’s an opportunity to cut taxes here or there they might actually… wait for it, trust us!

District 18

Eric Jenkins (Republican)

I believe that the rush to roll back income tax cuts was premature. As everyone knows, we were in a nationwide depressed economy and Kansas was experiencing its share of difficulties from lower tax revenues. Recent Federal Tax cuts, reduced regulation of business and consumer confidence has reversed the low revenue trend. I read a recent KS Star article that noted that revenues were more than $300 Million higher than projected. The State budget is enjoying the rewards of an economy that is turning around in a positive way. If this trend of increasing revenue continues, we should look at returning to taxpayers some of their hard-earned money. We should certainly look at reducing or eliminating taxes that are very regressive such as sales tax on food. I do not believe in the continued growth of government. Where does it end? If one were to compare the size of government and the number of programs with that of 50 years ago the difference would be staggering. Since then, however, this country has gone to nearly $20 Trillion in debt and people seem to be less happy about government than they ever have been.

Cathy Gordon (Republican)

We all agree Kansas needs more revenue to balance the current budget as it stands today. Our Property taxes here in Johnson County have increased, and yet our spending exceeds our income. Increasing taxes to the citizens is a “quick fix” but not a solution to the problem of over spending. The Kansas Efficiency report read we could save hundreds of millions of dollars over five years if we would strategically implement the purchase of goods and service by agencies other than state-funded entities. In other words, shop wisely, negotiate better deals for items such as a central wireless contract and phone lines. Run the state like a business, look for the best deals, be a competitor, and get the most out of one dollar. Don’t just raise taxes.

Rep. Cindy Neighbor (Democrat)

While it would be nice to cut taxes, we are still not in a position to do that. Instead, we could look at reducing sales tax on food which would touch all Kansas citizens. We are second in the nation with our food sales tax. We still have many agencies that are terribly underfunded because of the 2012 tax experiment. Most importantly, we do not know how much money Kansas will receive from the Federal government since the IRS is still trying to interpret the new Trump tax law.

Andy Hurla (Democrat)

We can cut taxes for everyone when we create new revenue streams.


District 22

Rep. Nancy Lusk (Democrat)

A balanced “three legged stool” approach to taxes has historically served Kansas the best. The Brownback tax policy demonstrated the fatuity of raising sales and property taxes to finance income tax cuts targeted to the wealthy. In the past two years, I was one of the legislators who voted to repeal most of the Brownback policy; as a result, after years of budget shortfalls, the state has moved towards sustainability.

Despite the repeal, the tax policy is still out of balance and I and others would like to find a way to lower the sales tax – especially the sales tax on food. Another concern is Kansas taxpayers are no longer able to itemize any deductions on their state taxes that were taken away with the new federal tax policy – eventually a fix is in order. Hopefully by next session the dust will have settled on both of the new tax plans at the state and federal levels, and we can look at the possibilities of making more changes.

However, at present we are still too much in a state of uncertainty and need to wait before thinking about cutting taxes. The threat of national trade wars with other counties (including China which is our largest sorghum and soybean buyer) has already dropped grain markets significantly. The state is still borrowing from the transportation fund, and the job of restoring our diminished education systems – both K-12 and higher education – and our dismantled state government has just begun. I predict the best possibility of a tax cut will probably be a packaged deal where a food sales tax cut was combined with an adjustment to income taxes.

Michael L. Coleman III (Democrat)

Did not respond.

District 29

Peggy Galvin (Republican)

I do not support return to Brownback’s “March to Zero” tax plan. Stability between income, sales, and property taxes will create an environment where businesses can thrive. The debt incurred in the last six years needs to be reduced before any taxes can be cut. Furthermore, the sales tax in Kansas continues to rise. As a result, many Kansans go to neighboring states to buy their groceries, etc…, where the taxes are lower. With the recent court decisions on sports betting and internet sales tax, I would support both, and if they have proven to be fruitful after a full year of implementation, I would use these revenues to lower the food sales tax.

James Todd (Republican)

Tax policy remains a concern for voters in Kansas. It is reassuring that a change in methodology in November of 2016 has allowed for more accurate revenue forecasting. For most of 2014-2016 state revenues came in below projections. This served to increase the problems being dealt with after the 2012 tax cuts. Tax increases in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2018 have brought current revenue back in line with where they were prior to the 2012 tax cut. While the income tax has not increased up to the same rates as before, sales tax remain elevated and off set the difference.

Kansas has future education increases that must be accounted for and a new Supreme Court ruling on education that must be dealt with. It is difficult to see opportunities for any tax reductions in the next term. What should be explored are tax reforms that can reduce the sales tax burden (especially on food), allowing Kansans to itemize deductions again as many will currently not be able to deduct their mortgage like they have in the past, determine how Kansas should respond to the Supreme Court ruling on internet sales tax, and explore having a Back to School Sales Tax Holiday.

I want to again sponsor a bill to create a Back to School Sales Tax Holiday. A recent Supreme Court ruling could open up this opportunity. The US Supreme Court passed a ruling that will allow states to collect sales tax on the Internet. Anyone that purchases items online knows that we already pay sales tax on many of the things we buy. This is in part because Kansas has been a member of a sales tax compact. Retailers agreed to voluntarily collect sales tax to member states of this compact, but the compact also placed limitations on how states can structure their sales tax code. If Kansas can continue to collect on-line sales tax and leave the compact then it will be possible to pass a law allowing counties and municipalities to decide if they want to participate in a Back to School Sales Tax Holiday. As a member of the compact, a sales tax holiday has to be statewide, but leaving the compact would allow local units of government to opt in or out. Johnson county businesses lose money every year as individuals buy their children’s school supplies from Missouri retailers.

I also want to mention that allowing for sport betting has the potential to increase revenue for the State. I voted for Daily Fantasy sports before and support allowing responsible and regulated sports betting in Kansas.

District 30

Matthew Calcara (Democrat)

The state of Kansas tax policy is still in shambles. I support the general direction in which the Legislature has been heading, but believe it has not yet gone far enough. We need to completely reverse the Brownback experiment, restoring income tax bands to where they were (adjusted for inflation) before that failed experiment began.
Kansas used to have one of the 10 most progressive systems of taxation in the country. Under Brownback, we had one of the 10 least progressive systems of taxation. I will not stop pushing for tax policy reform until we are back in the top 10 most progressive systems.

Progressive taxation is not only fairer for working-class and middle-class Kansans, it’s been proven to have a positive effect for the economy. Progressive tax policy puts more money into the pockets of Kansas families, which boosts demand for local businesses and helps us grow our economy. To get there, we should be looking to end sales taxes on groceries and other necessities, and reduce sales taxes overall, since they are among the most regressive ways to raise revenues. By reversing the Brownback experiment completely, we will have the money to fund schools and state government while still being able to cut sales taxes.

Bottom line: We need to end the Brownback experiment once and for all.

Brandon Woodard (Democrat)

Kansas continues to recover from the Brownback tax disaster, but we still have work to do. I was inspired by the work of the bipartisan women’s coalition in 2017 that laid the groundwork to partially repeal Brownback’s mistake and begin to restore funding for our public schools and our roads. After the repeal, Kansas’ credit outlook was revised from ‘negative’ to ‘stable’ and revenues have met or exceeded expectations. At a time when our public K-12 schools are unconstitutionally underfunded, we’ve failed to restore the cuts to higher education, and when we have forfeited more than $2.5 billion in Kansas dollars because of not expanding Medicaid, it would be foolish to consider efforts to cut income taxes. The tax cut I could support on day one would be a reduction in the food sales tax. Kansans are paying one of the highest taxes on groceries in the country. This regressive tax hurts working families, seniors and low-income Kansans the hardest. Lowering the food sales tax will be an immediate tax cut for all Kansans. Regarding the current state of Kansas tax policy, I believe an additional income tax bracket should be implemented for single earners making $500,000 a year or more or couples earning $1 million a year or more. These investments in Kansas would allow us to constitutionally fund our public schools, invest in higher education, and expand Medicaid.

Wendy Bingesser (Republican)

The State should be looking to maintain a balanced budget. It is no secret that the legislature made a mistake when it failed to cut spending in the amount necessary to cover the lost revenue from the 2012 tax cuts. This is a mistake Republicans felt dearly in the 2016 election when progressive Republicans and Democrats swept into power.

When I am elected, I will not vote to make the same mistake during my tenure. Being a fiscal conservative means I will vote to balance the budget without raising the tax burden on hardworking Kansans. We have already experienced a large sales tax increase in 2015 and over one billion dollars in tax increases in 2017. Kansas’ wage growth from 2016 to 2017 was only 2%. This means Kansas middle-class families will take home less, while the government gets more of their hard-earned tax dollars. As a result, I will strongly oppose further tax increases on Kansas families and businesses.

One of my top legislative priorities will be to cut the sales tax on food. Kansans pay among the highest food sales tax in the country. This is a burden that hardworking Kansas families cannot afford. Anyone who has gone to a grocery store lately knows the price of groceries is going up. With expenses like fuel, housing, childcare, and electricity going up as well, it would mean a lot to Kansas families to see the amount they spend on food go down. Another area of tax reform that I am looking at is property taxes. Property taxes have soared by as much as twenty percent in some parts of Johnson County. I believe that a cap on property tax increases should be considered to ensure Kansans are not being taxed out of their homes.

Colleen Webster (Republican)

Our food tax is too high and should be reduced. We could make up that revenue by taxing all internet purchases. For our senior citizens, a capped property tax would allow them to stay in their homes and the tax difference would be paid at the sale of the property. Because we are trying to get our state and all its departments solvent, we must not offer any tax breaks at this time. The June revenues were higher than estimated but we must not get overly optimistic. The trade embargoes on agriculture will impact our state and could create another “hit” to our states coffers. We need to be vigilant, cautious and steady. We had many years of robbing funds from specific departments just to keep our state afloat. How long will it take us to be completely be in the black? Sport gaming, if we could get it passed before neighboring states, is projected to be very lucrative. Excise taxes on products or services that are potentially harmful or dangerous for our youth should be highly taxed such as vaping products, tanning services & food with no nutritional value. Let’s be creative and open to new revenue sources instead of constantly putting the largest tax burden on the middle class.

Check back tomorrow for the candidates’ responses to our second item:

“The Kansas Supreme Court’s latest ruling in the Gannon case suggests the legislature could come into compliance with the constitution’s K-12 funding “adequacy” provision by accounting for inflation in the formula it used in the plan approved last session. Making that adjustment could require the addition of around $100 million in annual funding for K-12 schools. Would you support updating the current K-12 formula per the court’s guidance? If so, where should that additional money come from?”