Brownback to propose 'modest' tax hikes

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/WIBW) — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback says he will propose "modest, targeted" tax increases to help address the state's serious budget problems.

But during his annual State of the State address Tuesday evening, the Republican governor strongly defended an income tax break that some GOP lawmakers want to end.

"As a state, we have pioneered new ground on small business policy," Brownback said. "The purpose of our small business tax cut has been to increase the number of small businesses and increase private sector job growth. That policy has worked."

Brownback also told a joint session of the Republican-controlled Legislature that he will outline budget "efficiencies."

"The days of tax first, cut never have come to an end," he said.

As an example, Brownback noted entities that seem to overlap in their missions, such as the boards regulating barbering and cosmetology, and departments for insurance and securities. He said his budget will adopt recommendations from an efficiency study that was detailed for lawmakers last January.

Democratic leaders say the governor's comments ignore reality.

“The governor is still in denial about the damage his policies have caused Kansas families and communities,” said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley. “Governor Brownback’s policies have caused our state to go broke and we are faced with a budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion. Instead of making budget adjustments prior to the 2017 session, he has chosen to do nothing and simply passed the buck to the Legislature. This is not fiscal responsibility. This is poor leadership, and the people of Kansas are tired of it.”

Brownback also cautioned lawmakers against expanding the state's Medicaid program in line with the 2010 federal health care overhaul. President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans are planning to repeal the health care law.

Kansas faces projected budget shortfalls totaling $1.1 billion through June 2019. The state has struggled to balance its budget since Republican legislators slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging.