Politics & Government

Anti-tax activist Norquist criticizes Brownback’s proposed budget fix

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform. (Feb. 11, 2012)
Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform. (Feb. 11, 2012) File photo

Grover Norquist, the influential anti-tax activist who once hailed Gov. Sam Brownback as a possible presidential nominee, has sent Kansas lawmakers a letter panning the governor’s proposed budget fix, which includes steep tax hikes on tobacco and alcohol.

The proposals to raise taxes on alcohol and tobacco “would have a detrimental impact on many of Kansas’s small businesses who are reliant on liquor revenue – small businesses that the 2012 and 2013 tax reform legislation was designed to help and grow,” Norquist wrote in the letter.

He said the governor should look for additional budget cuts instead. That sentiment was echoed by Americans for Prosperity.

The state faces a $648 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins in July.

The governor has proposed about $211 million in tax increases to help fill the gap, including raising state taxes on cigarettes from 79 cents a pack to $2.29 a pack and raising the tax on liquor from 8 percent to 12 percent.

Norquist wields influence in national Republican circles as the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington-based organization that crafted the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” in which lawmakers pledge to oppose any efforts to raise income taxes or eliminate deductions.

The pledge has been taken by more than 250 lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate and, as of 2014, 21 lawmakers in the Kansas Legislature, including Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.

Norquist told the National Review last year that Brownback was well-positioned to make a presidential run in 2016 and voiced support for that prospect. During last fall’s election, he defended the governor’s income tax cuts, which many economic analysts have blamed for the state’s revenue shortfalls, to national media outlets.

But in the wake of Brownback’s latest tax proposal and budget, some of his staunchest defenders have become critics.

“The fact is, so-called ‘sin taxes’ like the cigarette tax and alcohol tax disproportionately impact consumers who can afford the tax increase least,” Norquist wrote in his letter to lawmakers.

“A pack-a-day smoker would end up paying an extra $547.50 in taxes a year. Kansans living along the Missouri border may opt to avoid the tax altogether by purchasing their tobacco products in Missouri – where the tax would be lower,” Norquist continued. “If consumers flock to businesses across state lines, they may make other purchases while shopping for tobacco – hurting the bottom lines of Kansas retailers.”

Brownback said Monday he welcomes input on his tax plan, which he called a starting point, and said he would see where the Legislature goes from there.

“We’ll see what people around here want to do. We’ve put forward a budget. I’m not saying it’s everything, because it’s not,” Brownback said in response to Norquist’s criticism. “He has a comment, and that’s fine.”

Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group with ties to Koch Industries, has also expressed opposition to the governor’s tax plan, which would slow future tax cuts and speed up the phasing out of deductions for property tax, mortgage interest and other items.

“We’re very disappointed. There’s been decades of overspending by the state, and unfortunately, instead of cutting back state government adequately to meet that need, he’s chosen to raise taxes,” said Jeff Glendening, Americans for Prosperity’s state director.

Glendening said that Brownback’s proposals do not match his rhetoric. The governor passionately touted low taxes in his State of the State address.

Glendening said Americans for Prosperity would be vocal on the issue and would be letting lawmakers know that raising taxes is “not an acceptable alternative to cutting spending in our state.”

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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