TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Gov. Sam Brownback promised Thursday night that Kansas will keep moving to eliminate income taxes despite state budget shortfalls that arose after aggressive tax cutting.
In his annual State of the State address, Brownback also called for legislators to repeal the state’s formula for distributing money to public schools and to start work on a “modern” one. He said he will also propose new programs to require more able-bodied recipients of social services to look for work or seek job training to maintain their benefits.
But the conservative governor wasn’t more specific about his education or social services initiatives during his speech to a joint session of the GOP-dominated Legislature. And he said only that he would outline proposals Friday for balancing the budget through June 2017 and building additional cash reserves.
The state faces projected budget shortfalls totaling more than $710 million for the current budget and the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Legislators slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging to stimulate the state’s economy.
“And we will continue our march to zero income taxes,” Brownback said. “Now, there may be some who consider this course too bold. Well, I’m the sort of guy who would have sent Alex Gordon from third base.”
The governor’s comment referenced Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, in which the Kansas City Royals lost to the San Francisco Giants with outfielder Gordon stranded on third. Fans have speculated for months that Gordon might have been able to score on the previous play had he sprinted home.
Brownback narrowly won a second four-year term in November after Democrats repeatedly argued that the income tax cuts were reckless and have wrecked the state’s finances. The state cut its top personal income tax rate by 29 percent, exempted the owners of 191,000 businesses altogether and promised future reductions.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said in the Democratic response that Brownback should admit “his economic experiment is a failure.”
“It is time for him to end this experiment and fix the budget crisis he created,” Hensley said after Brownback’s speech, without offering specifics.
But Senate budget committee Chairman Ty Masterson said Brownback’s promise that Kansas still will eliminate income taxes leaves room to phase them out more gradually than now planned to help balance the budget.
“In some degree, you’re going to have to make some adjustment,” said Masterson, an Andover Republican.
Dozens of school teachers in red shirts watched the speech on a television monitor outside the House chamber and some groaned when Brownback discussed school funding. The governor said the current aid formula isn’t transparent and is designed to lock in automatic increases in spending without guaranteeing results.
“Friends, it is time for a new school finance formula,” he said.
A state district court panel ruled last month that Kansas must boost its annual spending on public schools by a least $548 million to meet a state constitutional mandate to provide every child with a suitable education. The state is expected to appeal the decision to the Kansas Supreme Court
Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, called the GOP governor’s comments, “A lot of words to say a very simple idea: ‘I’m going to cut public schools.'”
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