Budget gaps prompt some Kansas lawmakers to ponder tax changes; others say they're last resort



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TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas' projected budget shortfalls have some Republican legislators weighing proposals to backtrack on tax-cutting policies championed by Gov. Sam Brownback, but House budget committee members said Tuesday that should be a last resort.

Brownback and the GOP-dominated Legislature must close gaps in the current and next state budgets totaling more than $714 million when the annual session opens in January. The projected deficits — which aren't allowed under the state constitution — total about 11 percent of the $6.4 billion in annual state spending on education, social services and other general government programs financed with general taxes.

Legislators aggressively cut personal income taxes at Brownback's urging in 2012 and 2013 to stimulate the economy — dropping the top rate by 26 percent and exempting owners of 191,000 businesses altogether. The predicted gaps in anticipated income and current spending commitments are nearly $279 million for the current budget year and almost another $436 million for the budget year beginning in July.

Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said Tuesday that he wants to "smooth out" future tax cuts and consider requiring business owners who used to pay personal income taxes to resume doing so on earnings exceeding $250,000.

"I do want to look at the tax policy," said Denning, vice chairman of the budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee, adding that last week's forecast "changes everything."

The governor's budget director, Shawn Sullivan, initially said the focus would be on finding efficiencies. On Tuesday, spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said the administration is working on budget and policy proposals and expects to announce a plan in early December.

State Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican serving on the budget-drafting House Appropriations Committee, said legislators should "exhaust" spending reductions first.

Rethinking past tax cuts is problematic because Kansas needs to remain economically competitive, said Appropriations Committee Chairman Gene Suellentrop.

"That'd have to be the last option," the Wichita Republican said.

Democrats argued during Brownback's successful re-election campaign that his tax cuts wrecked the state's finances. Sen. Laura Kelly, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said legislators won't be able to reduce spending enough without making devastating cuts to public schools, higher education, social services and other government programs.

"Anybody who thinks there's a whole lot more efficiencies or savings to be had — that's a misnomer," Kelly said. "It won't be that. It will be just severe service reductions and eliminations."


Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org


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