Thompson slams ‘borderline insanity’ in Topeka

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June 15, 2015 - 12:00 AM

His eyes still bloodshot and bearing the shadow of a three-day stubble, Rep. Kent Thompson on Sunday afternoon was still numb from what he terms a debacle of a legislative session that wrapped up Friday afternoon.
“It was borderline insanity,” Thompson said of the arm-twisting legislators faced during an all-night session Thursday that ultimately ended in approval of a massive sales tax increase.
Thompson, who represents House District No. 9, clarified that at 4 a.m. Friday he voted against House Bill 2109 that enacted the sales taxes, but voted yes for a “trailer bill” that made changes to “the amount of damage” the final bill could do.
Thompson said he worked to keep the Rural Opportunity Zones intact, protect deductions for non-profits, and prohibit any additional tax breaks for private schools.
“I figured the sales tax bill would pass one way or another and I needed to do what I could to make it more palatable,” he said.
“There was no getting around the sales tax,” Thompson said. “With Gov. Brownback, Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce all pushing for it, it was going to happen.”
House members passed the tax bill by a one-vote majority, 63-62. Of those, 17 were absent, and counted as a no vote.

THE TENOR of the 2015 session went from bad to worse, Thompson said.
“In November, revenue estimates came in below expectations and we knew some adjustments would have to be made,” Thompson said, referring to a twice-a-year report. The news then was that Kansas faced an immediate $279 million shortfall.
“In January and February, I began suggesting we address the budget, but those in leadership said to wait until April estimates came out,” he said.
When April came round, the deficit had ballooned to more than $400 million.
“It wasn’t until the second week of May that leadership took up tax policy discussions,” Thompson said in a disgusted voice.
Thompson said the delay forced legislators to address the issue in a mad-dash manner, short-shrifting any chance for any deliberative thought or discussion.
“We voted on a bill that had not even been written,” Thompson said of Thursday night’s shenanigans. And when the success of the vote was in doubt, House Speaker Ray Merrick called for a special break in action during which the Governor and other legislative leaders made personal phone calls to lawmakers to persuade them of its merits.
Thompson contends this is exactly how Gov. Sam Brownback intended the manner to be dealt.
“It gave Gov. Brownback exactly what he wanted. Funding, but with no increase in personal income taxes.”
Instead, the burden of the funding will come from a sales tax increase, from 6.15 to 6.5 percent, an increase of 50 cents on a pack of cigarettes, to help bring in an additional $384 million to state coffers.
Thompson calls the tax package’s amnesty program and tax increase on business and farm incomes “fake balloons,” predicting both “will bring in a fraction” of what they are purported.
Allowing taxpayers to pay back taxes with no fine is posed to bring in $30 million. Thompson said “it will be half that, if we’re lucky.”
A new tax on businesses and farmers will be on the payments they guarantee themselves, which, Thompson said, “any accountant can work around.” His guess is the expected $24 million from the tax will result in $12 million, “and that’s being generous.”
Thompson worries even with the increased sales tax, it won’t be enough to adequately fund expenditures.
“What about slippage?” he asked. Thompson fears Kansans will travel to either Missouri or Oklahoma to purchase goods because of their lower sales tax rates.
Sixty percent of Kansans on the eastern border live within 60 miles of either Missouri or Oklahoma, he said.

DID LEGISLATORS ever come close to repealing the income tax schedule that has plunged the state into a financial morass?
In a word, “no” but “we worked on it all the time,” Thompson said, referring to a coalition of about 25 lawmakers that wanted to impose a 2.7 percent tax levy on Kansas businesses and farmers.
And what about the governor’s threat to impose an across-the-board 6.2 budget cut if legislators did not resolve the budget by this morning?
“Oh, he meant it,” Thompson said. “In fact, he would like nothing better than to slash every department’s budget and then be able to put the blame on us legislators.”

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