Archive for Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Legislative leaders skeptical of Brownback’s budget plan

February 14, 2012, 1:21 p.m.

Updated: February 15, 2012, 12:00 a.m.

Leaders from both political parties on Friday said Gov. Sam Brownback’s legislative initiatives, including overhauling the state tax code and school finance system, had problems.

“The governor’s legislative agenda is basically in the emergency room right now,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence.

Brownback’s spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag issued a statement expressing confidence.

“It’s the second quarter and we’re moving the ball down the field,” she said. “In the last year, Kansas added nearly 12,000 private sector jobs and balanced its budget. This year, we will accomplish pro-growth tax reform, control state spending for the long term through reforms to Medicaid, school finance, KPERS, and secure our state’s future with clean water.”

It’s not unusual for Democrats to criticize Brownback, a Republican, but Brownback’s plans on school funding and taxes have been criticized by Republicans, too.

Brownback’s tax proposal would reduce income tax rates, give thousands of businesses a tax break, eliminate numerous deductions and credits, including home mortgage interest and Earned Income Tax Credit, and keep in place the 6.3 percent state sales tax, which under current law is set to decrease to 5.7 percent next year.

In order to phase out income taxes, Brownback wants to cap state spending growth at 2 percent per year. House Republican leaders have also expressed support of a 2 percent cap.

But Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said funding increases in Medicaid caseloads and the needs of the public pension system alone would eat up 2 percent of the budget growth.

A 2 percent limit, Morris said, “makes for a permanent budget crisis every year because everything else will be cut.”

Morris said a similar measure, called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, was instituted in Colorado and was a disaster.

Brownback’s plan on school finance plan has also drawn heat.

Senate Vice President John Vratil, R-Leawood, said, “The Senate Education Committee had hearings on the governor’s school finance bill three days this week, and if you look at the number of conferees testifying in favor compared to the number testifying in opposition, the governor’s bill is in trouble.”

Brownback’s plan would eliminate state limits on local taxes for schools and give local districts more authority in spending. Another part of Brownback’s plan — posting teacher evaluations on school district websites — was removed by Republicans after the proposal sparked outrage.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said there is nothing wrong with the current school finance formula, but that the system is underfunded because of budget cuts made over the past several years. A Democratic proposal would phase in restoration of those lost dollars.

Democrats also said other centerpiece items of Brownback’s agenda — privatizing Medicaid and switching the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System to a 401(k)-style system for future workers — were raising alarms in the Legislature as legislators learn more about the issues.

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