Don’t raise taxes on poor Kansans

By Walt Braun

We don’t object to the idea of state tax reform. If inequities can be addressed, they should be.

But we object to tax reform that creates inequities, particularly if they add to the woes of people least equipped to deal with them. Yet according to Kansas Department of Revenue data, that is the case with the state tax overhaul Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed.

As the Associated Press has reported, Department of Revenue data show that although taxes for most Kansans would decrease under the governor’s proposals, taxes for citizens with adjusted gross incomes of $25,000 a year or less actually would go up.  Income taxes would increase an average of $156 for the 564,000 Kansans with adjusted gross incomes of $25,000 or less. That’s about 41 percent of Kansans who pay individual income taxes. That simply is unacceptable. In fact it’s an outrage.

It would be unacceptable if their income taxes increased even $1 while taxes for people earning more money decline. Yet the Commerce Department says taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $25,000 to $100,000 would enjoy significant income tax cuts, as would Kansans with adjusted gross incomes between $100,000 and $250,000. Overall, Kansans’ would enjoy income tax cuts of about 12 percent.

Not surprisingly, Democratic officials statewide want none of it. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley called the provision “Robin Hood in reverse.” Kansas Democratic Party Chair Joan Wagnon said simply, “This doesn’t make any sense.”

Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan said that other provisions, including “a huge new investment” of $113 million in social service funding, would more than offset the income tax increase on the poor. He described denunciations of the proposal as “overheated political rhetoric designed to frighten people.”

The poor would seem to have reason to be frightened about a proposal that would raise their taxes while simultaneously lowering them for middle class and wealthy Kansans.

As for the “huge new investment” in social services, that would be more impressive if lawmakers hadn’t cut millions of dollars from social service programs in recent years to help offset steep declines in state revenue. Those cuts left holes in the safety net for Kansas’ most vulnerable citizens that remain to be mended.

The governor’s tax overhaul needs an overhaul. Raising taxes on the poor, especially while lowering them for wealthier Kansans, falls into the realm of the unthinkable.

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