Brownback offers economic growth plan

TOPEKA — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback proposed a sweeping economic growth plan on Thursday, putting forth a framework for better coordination of state efforts and closer monitoring of the merits of government programs.

The plan makes mention of changing state tax structures to encourage growth, such as incentives for rural development, but doesn't include eliminating specific taxes for large classes of businesses or individuals.

During a news conference to outline the plan, Brownback drew a distinction between economic growth and economic development, saying the two terms are not interchangeable.

"The ultimate goal of Kansas' economic development system is the prosperity of the state's citizens," he said. "After decades of piecemeal growth and change, the Kansas economic development system needs to be revitalized."

Brownback's plan includes several initiatives that he has already announced. They include reorganizing state economic development agencies, proposing to increase the expensing of certain business investments to spur growth, and creation of the Governor's Council of Economic Advisors.

The council will include Cabinet secretaries for labor, commerce, revenue and agriculture.

"We're looking to create an environment and a long-term fix," Commerce Secretary Pat George said. "We want to create an environment that is sustainable. We want to get out of picking the winners and losers. We want everybody to be a winner."

The council will be looking at a broad policy, officials said, building on the state's global strengths in agriculture, aviation and biosciences.

Brownback also proposes a five-year individual income tax rebate for residents who relocate to any Kansas county that has experienced double-digit population declines since 2000. Another plan would allow all businesses greater latitude in expensing capital investments to take advantage of state and federal tax credits.

"Those are the ones I think we can get done and pay for," Brownback said.

But Brownback said he wasn't proposing eliminating other taxes this year, such as corporate income taxes or reducing the state sales tax rate, because of budget constraints. Kansas faces a projected $492 million budget shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"I don't think we can do that now in this legislative session," Brownback said.

Brownback also said Kansas will closely monitor economic programs to ensure returns on state investments.