A panel consisting of State Senator Tom Hawk, State Representative Susie Swanson, State Representative Sydney Carlin and State Representative Tom Phillips addressed several questions pertaining to education, taxes and state budgeting on Saturday, April 1.

At the Sunset Zoo’s Nature Exploration Center, free coffee and donuts were provided to the public as the panel of legislators attempted to explain how they were working to right the wrongs of others in the statehouse, while also explaining their positions on boards, discussing budgeting and deficit numbers causing concern throughout the state, and addressing other issues such as mental health funding, education funding and the costs of state transportation systems.

Vocal frustration with a state deficit and a recent veto from Governor Sam Brownback on a Medicaid expansion bill seemed to raise as many questions as it did answers. Legislators struggled with the balance between raising taxes or allowing consistent under-funding and higher deficits in the fiscal years to come.

Medicaid Expansion 

As previously reported by KMAN, Gov. Brownback vetoed a Medicaid expansion bill that supporters claim will expand coverage for up to 180,000 Kansans. A veto override will require a two-thirds majority vote if legislators wish to implement the bill.

Rep. Sydney Carlin closed her statements of the morning at the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Coffee session by noting she was disturbed by the governor’s veto note.

“Do you know what (Gov. Brownback’s) veto message said?” Carlin asked in her closing statement, “It was about Planned Parenthood. Now, I did some exploring, because when that came out, I didn’t realize there had been a motion in the House and Senate committee to pull (Planned Parenthood) out. It failed. In Kansas, we failed to take out Planned Parenthood, because we believe in it.”

State Budget Plans

Panel members, specifically Sen. Hawk and Rep. Swanson pointed out that both the House and Senate of the state were hashing out new budget plans over the next few fiscal years.

“We just passed our Senate budget bill, which we call the “mega bill”, Hawk told the crowd, “I’ll tell you what it doesn’t do is leave us with a $404 million negative balance.”

From the House’s point of view, Rep. Swanson’s state of mind seemed to be in clean-up mode as well.

“In the past 4 or 5 years as as state, we’ve made some very misdirected decisions,” Swanson said, “and they’ve gotten us in a mess… We’re making some really horrible decisions this year, too. I think some of us are voting for those horrible decisions knowing, believing, we’re starting to turn things around.”

Local Taxes

To make up for deficits in state funding, panel members at the Legislative Coffee session were asked whether or not they supported raising a one-time income tax surcharge, mortgage taxes, fuel taxes and flat taxes.

The brief discussion about raising the fuel tax was addressed by Rep. Susie Swanson, who mentioned that she’s not opposed to finding a steady balance before raising the price of transportation in the area.

“I guess we do have cheap gas right now,” Swanson said, “I hate the idea of taxing everything that moves. That’s what I feel we’re looking at, and I don’t want to do that. In 2015 we increased the sales tax… And I’m a little worried, with the gas tax, about diesel fuel and truckers. You hear the arguments on both sides, but I don’t want Kansas to be the state that truck drivers feel they have to avoid.”

Rep. Hawk had similar feelings about the different types of tax increases being proposed.

“I think we may have to consider a surcharge on income tax,” Hawk said, “I certainly think three brackets and a progressive income tax is the fairest way to go. If you earn the money, you have it to pay your taxes. I think the problem with property taxes is that they do go up because we’ve shifted a lot of things to local government.”

Hawk’s thoughts on a flat tax were very different.

“I think the flat tax is an idea that sometimes gets a lot of political traction when you initially mention it,” Hawk said, “This flat tax raises taxes on the middle and lower income by 34 percent.”


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Source: KMAN Local News