Legislators talk taxes, budgets

By Katherine Wartell

State revenue, income tax and social issues were popular topics during Saturday’s legislative forum in Manhattan, where lawmakers gathered to discuss the latest legislative session and all that remains to be accomplished.

The legislators included Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan; and representatives Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan; Ron Highland, R-Wamego; and Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan.

They met Union Pacific Depot on Saturday morning following Friday’s adjournment of the Legislature for a month-long recess. They answered audience questions on Gov. Sam Brownback’s income tax cuts, the future of education funding and why time is spent on “personal-interest issues,” as one audience member characterized them, including abortion and gun control.

On Friday, the house and senate passed a bill that states life begins “at fertilization” and bans abortions performed because of the baby’s sex.

Highland, who represents the 51st district, said constituents have made it clear those are the topics important to them, but Phillips, who represents the 67th district, said they are the topics important to the individuals in charge and said he would rather discuss the budget.

In the senate, Hawk said, those individuals are the staunch conservatives, and he denounced recent gun bills that, in his words, do not promote a more peaceful society.

Another audience member asked if court costs are taken into account for bills such as the anti-abortion measure that are written in such a way as to ensure challenging by the federal government.

Carlin, who represents the 66th district, responded with an emphatic “no,” stating it is ridiculous for the Legislature to set itself up for spending money in courts, but Highland said it all goes back to what the constituents want.

The assembled lawmakers seemed to agree on a lack of cooperation in the Legislature, particularly on the matter of education funding.

Highland, who serves on the education committee, said that not a lot was accomplished in the recent legislative session, citing too many differences of opinion.

One audience member asked if anything should be done about education until healthcare costs are dealt with, but Hawk denounced the notion, saying the Legislature has fundamental obligations to education, while Carlin called the issue one of the big things still on the Legislature’s plate.

Phillips said it all goes back to the tax cut plan and said the best option for education right now is to keep the funding where it’s at.

Phillips told the crowd that the Legislature needs to admit mistakes with the governor’s tax cut plan, calling it a “tremendous shortfall,” and said the 6-cent sales tax needs to be retained.

As it stands, there is a disagreement in the tax bills passed between the House and the Senate on the sales tax. In the Senate tax bill, the current 6-cent sales tax would be extended, while in the House bill, the 6-cent sales tax would be allowed to sunset and revert to a rate of 5.7 percent. The tax conference committee will meet again in May. In a written summary on the matter, Hawk stated that the biggest obstacle to the committee is how much to cut higher education.

On the topic of income tax, both Carlin and Hawk said they do not think Brownback is willing to back down from his controversial tax bill, and Hawk again denounced the argument that the income tax cuts will encourage businesses to move to Kansas.

But Highland claimed that enough companies have been moving into the state to worry Missouri.

On Saturday, several of the legislators commented on the state’s revenues being down in the last months. In Hawk’s newsletter, the senator wrote that in March, Kansas tax-only revenues came in $56.5 million below estimates.

Individual income taxes were reported at $32.2 million below estimates for the fiscal year, which began June 1.

And the sales tax receipts were down by $11.7 million from the estimates.

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