Local News Spotlight

Brownback tax plan would hit impoverished Kansans the hardest

Updated: 2012-01-18T06:57:51Z

By BRAD COOPER

The Star’s Topeka correspondent

— The numbers paint a stark picture of the haves and have-nots in Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s new tax plan.

More than a half million tax filers — earning less than $25,000 a year — will pay an average of $156 more in income taxes under the governor’s plan to overhaul the state tax code. By contrast, roughly 21,000 taxpayers — making more than $250,000 a year — will see an average cut of $5,200 a year in their tax bills.

Taxpayers somewhere in the middle, earning from $50,000 to $75,000 annually and comprised of 185,692 filers, would pay $282.90 less on average.

The calculations weren’t crafted by some liberal special interest group trying to sink the conservative Republican governor’s tax reform plan, but rather by his own Department of Revenue.

The numbers were sent Tuesday to a special Senate committee studying various tax plans. And they immediately provided ammunition for critics who think the governor wants to shift the cost of government from the affluent to the poor.

“It’s been Robin Hood in reverse,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley a Topeka Democrat. “What we are doing is stealing from the poor to give to the rich.”

The new figures had the Brownback administration on the defensive, reiterating that it really wants to help the neediest Kansas

“We are making our tax system fairer, flatter, and simpler, and we expect it will unleash new economic opportunities across the state, not just for needy families, but for all Kansans,” Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan said in statement.

Brownback’s tax plan lowers the highest tax bracket from 6.45 percent to 4.9 percent. The lowest tax bracket applying to those making less than $15,000 a year would drop from 3.5 percent to 3 percent.

The plan relies heavily on eliminating tax deductions and credits, including the deduction for home mortgage interest, the deduction for charitable contributions, food sales tax rebates and the earned income tax credit, which benefits the poor.

It also eliminates income taxes for roughly 191,000 small businesses in the state.

Jordan on Tuesday repeated themes that were first expressed last week after the governor unveiled his tax plan to the Legislature.

He again noted that the governor’s plan doubled the standard deduction for head of household filers. And he also pointed out that the state will use $60 million gained from eliminating the earned income tax credit to match federal aid for the poor and disabled.

Jordan said that would bring in an extra $53 million in federal funds to assist low-income Kansans. Together, it adds up $113 million in new funding for low-income families.

“This $113 million is a huge, new investment in helping people get out of poverty, and to say otherwise is simply overheated political rhetoric intended to frighten people,” Jordan said in statement.

But even the conservative-leaning Kansas Policy Institute was left scratching its head over the new calculations.

“It’s wrong to increase taxes on one group of people while providing tax relief to another,” said Dave Trabert, the policy institute’s president. “There should be uniformity in tax policy. The same policy should apply to all classes of taxpayers.”

In an interview, Jordan cautioned against reading too much into the analysis, noting that it only reflected averages. He said there are a number of variables that influence a person’s income taxes, including what deductions and credits they claim on their return.

The Revenue Department’s analysis of the Brownback plan examined income tax data from 2009 and breaks down taxpayers into six income brackets. The only bracket with a tax increase ranges from zero up to $25,000.

That group, made up of 564,328 tax filers, would pay $88.2 million more in taxes under the governor’s tax plan. Meanwhile, the highest income bracket making $250,000 a year would pay $110 million less in taxes.

Since the plan was unveiled last week, it has been assailed by critics as an attempt to help the wealthiest taxpayers, especially with the proposal to eliminate the earned income tax credit, which generally goes to low-income earners to help them keep more of what they earn.

But proponents argued that the governor’s tax plan is intended to spur growth by putting more money into the hands of taxpayers in hopes that they will in turn reinvest that into the state economy.

State Sen. Les Donovan, chairman of the Senate tax committee, was sympathetic to the governor’s plight.

“The governor is a compassionate human being,” said Donovan, a Wichita Republican. “He doesn’t want to harm poor people. Trust me; he doesn’t want to do that.”

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To reach Brad Cooper, call 816-234-7724 or send email to bcooper@kcstar.com.

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