December 18, 2014

Brownback outlines 2-year budget

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com
Gov. Sam Brownback delivered the State of State Address on Jan. 15. In his speech, he outlined a variety of proposals he said will make government more efficient and grow the Kansas economy without hurting basic services like education.
He outlined proposals for four different concerns during his lengthy address last Tuesday evening. Initiatives included preparing children for the future; jobs and economic growth; a two-year budget proposal; and government reform.
The following day, Brownback more fully outlined his two-year budget plan.
“By making government more efficient and growing our economy, we can keep the sales tax flat at its current level and cut income taxes on our lower income working families to 1.9 percent and drop the top rate to 3.5,” he said during his speech. “This glide to zero will not cut funding for schools, higher education or essential safety net programs.”
Brownback said lowering the state’s income tax rate – eventually to zero – will create jobs and opportunities. In exchange for lowering income taxes, the Governor suggested continuing a 1 percent sales tax, most of which is set to expire at the end of this year as well as eliminating mortgage interest and real estate deductions.
While presenting his budget, Brownback said only about 30 percent of Kansans itemize when they file their taxes. Last year, the standard deduction for Kansas filers increased from $4,500 to $9,000 for single head of households; and from $6,000 to $9,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly.
Critics said Brownback’s budget numbers don’t add up, particularly where education funding is concerned.
Annie McKay, executive director for the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, said Brownback’s plan puts the priority on tax cuts while eliminating essential tax credits.
“Unless we make a commitment to begin investing again in education after years of destructive funding cuts, Kansas will not have the workforce it needs to compete in the global economy,” she said.
Joan Wagnon, chair of the Kansas Democratic Party, said Brownback’s plan is a “two year nightmare that consists of the wrong priorities and fuzzy math.”
One Brownback initiative would provide $12 million to support programs to help struggling readers with a goal of requiring third graders to demonstrate the ability to read before being advanced to the fourth grade.
“While the governor had talked so eloquently about improving Kansas student literacy and putting dollars into early reading programs, his budget fails to raise education spending a dime in 2014 – even though Kansas courts have found Kansas schools woefully underfunded by over $400 million,” Wagnon said.
The Governor’s budget plan protects existing base aid per pupil of $3,838 in 2014 and increases base state aid to $3,852 per pupil in 2015. Brownback said his budget proposal also increases overall state funding for K-12 schools.
“We seem to focus only on how much money is appropriated, not on whether it is effectively spent,” Brownback said in his address. “This must change and that change is happening in our administration.”
Brownback did not directly discuss a recent district court decision that said the state legislature must increase base state aid per pupil, however he said the power of the purse is a power that belongs to the legislature – not the judiciary.
The two-year budget focuses on efficiency and effectiveness and ends with a 7.5 percent ending balance in 2014 and 2015.

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