A bill that would change how much Kansans pay for gas and groceries received its first hearing on Tuesday.
While the Kansas Senate fast-tracks tax increases and budget cuts, a coalition of statewide organizations said a bill in the Kansas House would provide a structural solution to the state’s fiscal woes without spending cuts.
HB 2237 would lower the state sales tax on some food from 6.5 percent to 5 percent.
It would raise the motor fuel tax by 11 cents a gallon starting on July 1.
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It would end an income tax exemption for nonwage business income and add a third bracket for income taxes.
Opponents say the bill fails to look at reducing state spending.
Duane Goossen, a former state budget director, said lawmakers need a comprehensive solution to put an end to the state’s repeated fiscal crises.
“At this point, it’s not realistic or responsible to solve the imbalance that the state faces with more expenditure cuts,” said Goossen, who has been a frequent critic of Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax policies as a fellow for the Kansas Center for Economic Growth. The center led efforts for the bill.
Heidi Holliday, the center’s executive director, said the state needs to move beyond relying on temporary funding fixes.
“We need a plan that restores fairness and accountability,” Holliday said.
Kansas Contractors Association president Bob Totten said the bill would protect Kansas infrastructure funding.
Proponents of early childhood programs said the lower sales tax on groceries would help health and nutrition.
But Kansas Policy Institute president Dave Trabert said the bill would raise taxes on low-income people every time they filled their vehicles with gas.
“You don’t solve the problem by creating another one,” Trabert said.
Americans for Prosperity state director Jeff Glendening said the proposal didn’t get to the heart of what he views as the state’s spending problems.
Tom Whitaker, Kansas Motor Carriers Association executive director, said the motor fuel tax hike would lead to truckers avoiding Kansas interstate highways. He also said the income tax provision would harm small trucking companies.
“It’s a double whammy,” he said.
Rep. Ken Corbet, R-Topeka, said he was worried about how the bill would affect people living on a fixed income and dealing with their property taxes as well.
“It may be prohibitive for a lot of people to even stay in this state,” he said.
He asked Goossen how he justified tax increases to Kansans who feel “they’re being taxed to death today.”
“What Kansas has to do is balance its budget. That’s the math. There’s not enough revenue coming in,” Goossen responded. “The state simply must raise revenue in order to pay its bills.”
Brownback’s office blasted the plan when it was first floated as the work of “liberal special interest groups.”
“The true victims of their tax and spend proposals were … members of the middle class, working hard every day to put gas in the tank and money in their pockets to provide for themselves and their families,” Melika Willoughby, the governor’s communications director, said in an e-mail.