By Travis Mounts
Local Kansas legislators are generally in support of Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to eliminate the state’s income tax.
They recognize, however, that factors such as an economic backslide or uncertainty about the recent State Supreme Court decision – which said the state is not adequately funding education – could create problems.
Local legislators also noted that at least a couple of the governor’s ideas – eliminating the state’s mortgage interest deduction and combining the Kansas Turnpike Association with the Kansas Department of Transportation – are controversial and that they were still forming their opinions on those proposals.
“I thought it was a good speech if we can end it right there, but we have to see where the money comes from, who’s getting taken away from and who’s getting more,” said State Sen. Dan Kerschen (R-Garden Plain). “It all depends on the economy.”
Freshman State Rep. George “Joe” Edwards (R-Haysville), who represents the 93rd District, said there was a lot in the budget that he needed to look at more closely.
“I like what (Brownback) is trying to do with the income tax,” he said.
Edwards was less enthusiastic about retaining the sales tax increase from 5.7 percent to 6.3 percent that was approved three years ago at the height of the economic crisis and was set to expire. The governor has proposed extending the increase, which is set to expire in July.
Rep. Joe Seiwert (R-Pretty Prairie) represents the 101st District, which now includes a stretch of U.S. Hwy. 54 that includes Garden Plain, Goddard and west Wichita. He said past economic plans haven’t worked and it’s time to give a new idea a chance.
“I’m a farmer, so I’m optimistic,” he said.
He did acknowledge there is some risk involved.
“No matter what you do, when you make a change, there’s risk. You hope you build a bridge that will get you to the other side,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, I would like to think we’re flexible enough to make a change.”
Edwards believes there are districts that spend too little of what they have on students and teachers. He is co-author of a bill that would require districts to spend at least 65 percent of their budgets on classrooms.
Seiwert said the Supreme Court ruling – which said the state needs to increase funding from $3,838 per student to $4,492 – could slow the entire budget process.
Possibly most controversial is the proposal to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction. It was an idea that was on the table last year but was quickly dismissed. Local legislators were somewhat hesitant on the idea, but said taxpayers should still benefit if Brownback’s proposals work.
“You can’t have both. You can’t have a whole list of deductions and have a tax break,” said Seiwert.
Edwards had similar sentiments.
“If we zero out the income tax, we won’t need the mortgage deduction,” he said. Edwards said the deduction needs to be kept if income taxes aren’t eliminated.
Kerschen said the idea to combine KTA and KDOT was a “total surprise” but that “it could be a good thing.” He said he would need to see the plan before making a decision on it.
Many legislators like the idea of creating a two-year budget. They said that would make it easier for educators to plan their budget years, which begin just weeks after the legislative session wraps up each year. During the recession, school districts were forced to make drastic cuts while well into the second half of the budget year, which limited the choices available.