Prairie Politics

Poll: Kansas respondents want business owners to pay income tax, say sales taxes too high

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Most respondents to a new Kansas poll say sales taxes are too high and that business owners should pay income tax.

The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, which surveyed 1,217 Kansas voters between Aug. 5 and 6.

Asked if the sales tax rate was too high, too low or just about right, 76 percent of respondents said it was too high. Another 18 percent said just about right, while 4 percent said it was too low and 2 percent were not sure.

A majority of 72 percent of respondents said business owners should pay income tax; 20 percent said they shouldn’t. The remaining 8 percent were not sure.

The poll comes a month after the state sales tax hike went into effect. The Legislature voted to raise the state sales tax to 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent in June as part of a plan to plug the state’s budget hole.

Kansans also pay county and, in some cases, city sales taxes on top of that. Some areas of Wichita have a combined sales tax rate of 8.5 percent or higher. In areas of Johnson and Wyandotte counties, the combined sales tax rate exceeds 10 percent.

The state eliminated income taxes on business profits for the owners of limited liability companies, S corporations and sole proprietorships three years ago, a move that has exempted more than 330,000 business owners and farmers from paying income tax.

During the legislative session, Gov. Sam Brownback threatened to veto any tax plan that rolled back the income tax break for businesses, making the sales tax hike one of the only viable alternatives.

The poll was commissioned by Smoky Hills Strategies, a Lindsborg-based political consulting firm, and its results will be presented at the Kansas Democratic Party’s annual Demofest convention in Wichita this week. Ryon Carey, one of the firm’s partners and a member of the state Democratic Party’s executive committee, said the poll makes it “pretty clear that Brownback and his Republican allies in the Legislature aren’t following the will of their constituents because their policies are not very popular.”

Almost as many respondents, 71 percent, opposed one of the governor’s other solutions to the budget problem, sweeping money from the state’s highway fund.

The governor’s office dismissed the results of the poll.

“Democrats have long supported higher taxes and spending, increasing regulations on businesses, and ObamaCare, but Kansas voters have rejected this agenda many times, instead electing a Governor and legislature delivering state government reform, defense from an obtrusive federal government, and lower taxes for all Kansans,” said Eileen Hawley, the governor’s spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

Chapman Rackaway, a political scientist with Fort Hays State University, said the results weren’t too surprising.

Rackaway said two trends in polls – both in Kansas and nationwide – are that people generally oppose raising their own taxes, but support raising taxes on others.

“Any time you ask a question about a tax that’s been increased, people are going to say it’s too high,” Rackaway said. “Everyone thinks that taxes that they have to pay – sales tax, can’t avoid them – are too high.”

Carey said the poll suggests that tax fairness could be a winning issue for Democrats in the 2016 election when members of the Kansas House and Senate stand for re-election.

“They should have repealed the exemption on business owners’ income taxes rather than continuing to raise taxes on working people,” Carey said. “We’re barreling toward having some of the highest sales taxes in the country.”

Democrats avoided pressing the issue during the 2014 campaign. Gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis stopped short of calling for a repeal of Brownback’s income tax cuts.

Rackaway said that Republicans who voted for the sales tax increase could be vulnerable to challenges from either the right or the left.

“It makes for a great postcard hit,” he said.

Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said he doesn’t “put a lot of election credibility on those public polls because it doesn’t measure how strongly somebody will follow up on their belief.”

“I mean everybody can complain that sales tax is too high or this or that,” Barker said. “But whether they would vote on that or it would change their vote or influence their vote, that’s a different matter. So I’m not too concerned about that.”

Half of the respondents to the poll were Republican, while 28 percent were Democrats and the remaining 22 percent were independents.

The poll showed a stronger consensus on taxes than on any other issue. However, there were numerous issues where lawmakers appeared out of step with respondents.

Other issues

A majority of 62 percent said that the state does not spend enough on education, and 59 percent voiced support for expanding Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act to give health coverage to 150,000 uninsured Kansans. A proposal to expand Medicaid received a hearing this past session, but failed to make it to the House floor.

The poll also showed support for requiring police officers to wear body cameras while on duty: 67 percent of respondents supported such a requirement, and 25 percent said they should not.

Public campaigns for body cameras have become prevalent in the wake of fatal shootings by police in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere. Supporters say body cameras increase transparency and accountability.

Carey said it’s “an issue that cuts both ways.”

“There was a Lenexa police officer not too long ago who was exonerated because he was wearing a body camera,” he said. “I think it’s an issue of protecting police and protecting the public.”

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

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