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Advocates in Kansas team up to say no more cuts

A coalition of prominent advocacy groups in Kansas said today that it will present a united front against more funding cuts as the Legislature begins another painful session of budget wrangling.

Kansans for Quality Communities includes the Kansas NEA, the Kansas Association of School Boards, the KS Organization of State Employees, the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas, Kansas Health Care Association, the Disability Rights Center and other groups.

“These cuts have gone too far,” said Mike Hammond, director of the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas, another member of the coalition. “We can no longer cut our way out of this crisis.”

Lawmakers cut nearly $1 billion in spending last year to overcome budget deficits. This year they’ve got to either cut or raise another $300+ million more.

Instead of cutting more state spending on education and programs that help the elderly, disabled and mentally ill, KQC wants lawmakers to focus on finding new money.

The group has no specific tax recommendations, but it does want lawmakers to re-consider tax exemptions and breaks given away in recent years, consider delaying the phase out of some taxes slated for elimination, and even debate whether other taxes could be raised.

“We must have a serious talk about increased revenue, including a critical discussion about tax exemptions and credits which go to a select group of persons,” said Shannon Jones, executive director of the Statewide Independent Living Council.

“Nothing can be off the table,” said Mark Desetti of the Kansas chapter of the National Education Association.

Leaders of each group vow to stand together to fight any more cuts. That could prove challenging if lawmakers propose a budget that, say, cuts schools more than it would social services or mental health.

But the leaders of the groups represented by the coalition insist they’ll stand firm.

“We cannot allow one vital program to be cannibalized to save another,” Desetti said.

Many lawmakers — Democrats and some moderate Republicans — say they support reconsidering tax exemptions and breaks. Others support raising the tobacco tax.

But just as many lawmakers say raising taxes during a recession would only stunt an economic recovery. They say the state must cut more, and favor a hard look at state spending to find any inefficiencies.

The real debate starts Monday at 2 p.m.

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