Kansas expands Rural Opportunity Zones to 23 more counties

Kansas political leaders trying to stave off rural population decline can now point to 73 counties where the state waives income taxes for newcomers and, in some cases, the state and counties partner to repay a hefty chunk of new residents' student loans.

Following up on new tax laws approved by lawmakers earlier this year, the state added 23 counties to its Rural Opportunity Zones program this month, making nearly 70 percent of Kansas' 105 counties a bit more financially enticing.

Previously, most of western Kansas was included. The new additions add several counties in central and southeast Kansas, including Coffey, Chase, Anderson, Linn, Bourbon, Neosho, Wabaunsee and many others. (See a map of previously included counties at:

The program abates income taxes for up to five years for anyone who lived outside of Kansas for more than five years, hasn't earned more than $10,000 in Kansas-based income for five years and moves into an opportunity zone county. In many of the counties, people can also get up to $15,000 worth of student loans repaid if they recently moved into a rural county, got a degree and have remaining student loan debt.

The Department of Commerce says 864 people from 39 states have applied for the student loan repayment. Of those, 510 have been approved, and 125 are pending. People are commonly denied if they didn't complete their degree or moved into the rural county before the state started the program in 2012.

Eighty-three taxpayers have claimed the Rural Opportunity Zone tax credit on their 2012 tax returns with $234,000 in credit claimed, according to the Department of Revenue.