YATES CENTER — Gov. Sam Brownback grew up on a farm near tiny Parker in Linn County, and in 1974 was state president of the high school Future Farmers of America organization. In that role, Brownback visited chapters all across the state.
“I’ve seen the rural areas decline since then (1974),” Brownback said Monday afternoon in Yates Center.
He was there for a ceremonial signing of the Kansas Rural Opportunity Zones program bill, designed to encourage former residents, retirees and professionals to move to 50 of Kansas’ counties that have suffered substantial population losses.
Woodson County is one. Allen County is not.
The program has two incentives:
— Kansas will offer a state income tax rebate of up to five years to individuals who move to one of the counties from outside the state. They must have lived outside Kansas for at least five years to qualify.
— The program offers up to $3,000 per year, with a maximum benefit of $15,000, in student loan forgiveness to individuals who graduate from an accredited post-secondary institution and move to one of the counties. This portion of the program requires a 50 percent match by the counties. Brownback said the hope was the student provision would bring medical professionals to the counties.
“We have a great quality of life in Kansas and we have to start selling it,” Brownback said. “We plan to place billboards in Southern California, New Jersey and other places on the coasts.”
Kansas must market itself, Brownback added, and mentioned a story he heard during his gubernatorial campaign in Winfield.
He happened onto a couple who had moved there from Los Angeles because it was “a nice, calm place to live,” said the husband, a former L.A. police officer. They became aware of Winfield during a motorcycle vacation through the Heartland.
Brownback said that was an example of people the incentives might attract.
Sen. Jeff King, Independence Republican whose district includes Woodson and Allen counties, commended Brownback and the program, noting: “If there ever has been a governor in Kansas who cares more about rural Kansas, I don’t know who it would be.”
THE INCOME tax exemption is expected to reduce funds to state coffers by $1.5 million in the first year, and $4.4 million in its second year, according to state estimates. Brownback has recommended transferring $1.3 million in economic development funds to the Kansas Department of Commerce to cover the student loan repayment program.
Commissioners in each of the 50 counties will decide whether to participate in the student loan portion of the program.
In southeast Kansas, Elk, Wilson, Greenwood and Chautauqua counties are in the program with Woodson. All of northwest Kansas, where most counties have sparse populations, is included.
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