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What's Still the Matter with Kansas: Brownback's Attack on the Income Tax

Ilana Novick

Kansas governor Sam Brownback is on a mission to repeal income taxes, and he seems to be suceeding, mostly by claiming to be supporting small businesses and families -- while at the same time draining the very programs, like education and health care, that the state depends on for its well-being and future prosperity. 

The latest proposed budget cuts services over the next two years so much so that, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "Kansas in 2015 will be spending 20 percent less per pupil on K-12 education than it did before the recession, after adjusting for inflation." 

This is all on top of eliminating targeted tax credits including the Food Sales Tax Rebate, Child and Dependent Care Credit, and the Homestead PropertyTax Refund for renters, and decreasing the top rates for the wealthiest families. Brownback also abolished taxes on  "pass-through" income, allowing business owners to declare profits from their business as income under the personal tax code and skip corporate or other business taxes.

And never mind that the income tax "generates almost half of Kansas’ funding for schools, universities, health care, public safety, and so on.

According to a report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, last year's cuts made the poorest 20% of Kansans pay 1.3 percent more of their income in taxes each year, or an average increase of $148. The wealthiest residents on the other hand, will see their taxes drop by about $21,087 on average, or 2 percent of their income.

Framing tax breaks for the wealthy as somehow beneficial to small business owners is not unique to Kansas, as North Carolina state legislature also passed an income tax break which supporters tried to frame as relief for small business owners, while, as in Kansas ignoring that the tax breaks are taking away $336 million from public schools, health care, child care, and other state-funded services, according to another CBPP report. 

As bad as North Carolina's cuts are, Brownback's latest proposal goes the furthest on slashing income taxes -- as if it doesn't matter that lawmakers are cutting higher education again, after reducing higher education support by 24.5 percent since 2008. How are Kansas's public universities supposed to support themselves otherwise? And where will its lowest-income residents turn for healthcare? Apparently these questions aren't important for Brownback. We can only hope that he doesn't succeed this year.