About 100 Emporians gathered in an alumni center at Emporia State University Saturday to meet with area legislators and talk about state issues. They mostly talked about taxes and the state budget, according to an Associated Press story written by an Emporia Gazette reporter.
Sen. Jim Barnett and Reps. Peggy Mast and Don Hill agreed it is a stressful year. They said more budget cuts had already been made, in-cluding $2 million more for services for the developmentally disabled.
They noted that the last round of reductions included a 5 percent pay cut for elected and appointed state officials, including legislators and members of the judiciary.
Then they addressed what was on the mind of most in the audience: How about education? How about taxes?
Sen. Barnett said the state’s first responsibility was to its public school students. That’s what makes the year so challenging, he said, be-cause the money isn’t there yet to meet that responsibility.
In answer to a question from the audience, Sen. Barnett said, “I’ve had people, many people, come up to me and say, ‘raise my taxes, I don’t mind a one cent tax increase.’’’
Rep. Hill said he has been hearing an overwhelming cry to raise taxes from his constituents.
“Our cuts have been brutal,” he said.
It was then pointed out that Gov. Mark Parkinson’s proposal to raise the state sales tax by a penny was defeated in committee but that bills to eliminate sales tax exemptions remain alive.
Emporia State University President Michael Lane was in the audience and said: “As you know, my responsibility to those more than 6,000 students and more than 800 employees on this campus compel me to say, Please, no more cuts. We are at the bone.”
President Lane also mentioned a bill in a taxation committee that would remove sales tax exemptions on not-for-profit organizations but not for professional services.
“So they’re willing to collect taxes from Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Good Will and churches, but not willing to consider removing the tax exemption from doctors, lawyers, accountants, architects” and went on to say he understood that the income from removing exemptions on professional services would be more than twice the savings on not-for-profits.
TALK OF removing sales tax exemptions should continue. Utilities, for example, are exempt. Eliminating that one would bring in millions — and would raise the cost of gas, electricity and water by 5.3 percent in the wake of the coldest winter in ages. That would raise cries of alarm, as would taxing medical bills.
But the point is that the Kansas tax base has grown smaller with each exemption passed. A smaller tax base means that higher tax rates are required to raise the same amount of money, which makes it that much more difficult to fund the state budget adequately.
To do an intelligent job of reviewing all of the tax breaks now on the books: sales tax and property tax exemptions and a passel of special interest income tax and corporate tax benefits, all of which were passed with the purest of motives — and all of which reduce the tax base and squeeze the budget — an interim committee should tackle the task after the session is adjourned and present their recommendations for action to the next session.
There simply isn’t time to do the job right between now and May and raise the money needed to fund eduction and pay for the rest of the essential services the state provides its citizens (you, me and our neighbors.)
Maybe that’s why Gov. Parkinson proposed a penny increase in the statewide sales tax rather than a restructuring of the state’s tax system.
It would bring in the necessary money in the available time frame. It’s easy to understand. It is the most acceptable major tax to the largest number of people.
Even though it came from a lame duck governor who also is a Democrat, legislative leaders should listen to the people of Emporia and to the countless other Kansans who don’t think it’s necessary — or morally acceptable — to balance the budget on the backs of the disabled or the kids of Kansas, and go for that penny while promising the people that a thorough-going review of the state’s tax structure will be made this coming summer.
— Emerson Lynn, jr.
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