Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday rejected criticism of the state’s Department of Revenue mailing brochures to 146,000 business owners about state income tax cuts just days before the general election.
“It’s strictly educational,” Brownback said during a stop in east Wichita as part of his two-day statewide motorcycle tour to promote Republican candidates for Tuesday’s election. “One of the key things about our tax package is that people need to know about it.”
The state income tax cuts were enacted earlier this year. The revenue department set up the brochure and decided on the timing and the distribution of it, Brownback said.
“I did not go to the Department of Revenue about it,” he added.
Earlier this week, state House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, accused the Brownback administration of using state tax dollars on electioneering. One side of the blue, gold and white brochure touts the cuts as making the state’s income tax system “fairer, flatter and simpler” and quotes a Wall Street Journal editorial, “What’s Right with Kansas.”
“The timing of this is, I think, very inappropriate,” Davis said.
Revenue department spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda said the agency began mailing the brochures Wednesday and spent $52,000 on printing and postage.
At a news conference Friday, Davis called on Brownback to tap his campaign funds to reimburse the department for the $52,000.
Brownback said the brochure was a response to criticism from people who said they didn’t know about the tax package.
Asked if mailing the brochures could have waited until after Tuesday’s election, he said, “I don’t know what the Department of Revenue’s calculation of it is, other than you are getting right up to the end of the year on tax planning. People need to plan.”
The brochures were sent to businesses that file their taxes as LLCs, subchapter S and sole proprietorships, Brownback said.
Koranda said the agency did not coordinate the work with the governor’s office. She said department officials sought to respond to questions they’ve frequently received from business owners while traveling the state and used an “eye-catching” design to make sure the brochure was read.
She said the department wanted to get the brochure to business owners as quickly as possible, so they could consult with their accountants and tax advisers before the tax cuts take effect in January. Koranda said the agency has been working on the brochure since mid-September.
“If we waited another week, most people would be getting them around the middle of the month. November has Thanksgiving. December has Christmas,” Koranda said. “You’re getting into the holidays. People get busy.”
The mailings were first reported by the Topeka Capital-Journal.
The second side of the brochure says the tax cuts apply to more than just business owners and lists other provisions. After listing and answering questions related to the business tax cut, it says Brownback and legislators sought to “help Kansas families and small businesses keep and reinvest more of their own hard earned money.”
The income tax cuts have become a key issue in legislative campaigns, with Democrats criticizing them as reckless. The state will reduce individual income tax rates, drop the top tax rate to 4.9 percent from 6.45 percent and increase the standard deductions claimed by married couples and heads-of-household. The state also will exempt the owners of 191,000 partnerships, sole proprietorships and other businesses from taxes.
Legislative researchers have estimated that the cuts will be worth $4.5 billion over the next six years. But the researchers also project that the cuts will create collective budget shortfalls approaching $2.5 billion during the same period – something the brochure doesn’t mention.
“They’re spending tens of thousands of dollars trying to promote their political agenda, just a few days before an election,” Davis said. “It’s poor timing to say the least, and a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
Kansas law prohibits the use of state funds and resources for electioneering.
But Carol Williams, executive director of the state Governmental Ethics Commission, noted that the ban applies when someone seeks to “expressly advocate” the election or defeat of “a clearly identified candidate to state office or local office.” The brochure mentions Brownback, who isn’t on the ballot, and the Legislature, but not members or groups within it. It doesn’t mention the election.
Koranda said the brochure counters confusion about the tax cuts and dismissed Davis’ criticism as unwarranted.
“It was definitely an attempt to do an educational outreach,” she said.
Contributing: Rick Plumlee of The Eagle and the Associated Press