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Jan 11, 9:26 PM EST

The Latest: Brownback aide fires back at top Kansas lawmaker


TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- The Latest on Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's budget and tax proposals (all times local):

8:20 p.m.

An aide to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is suggesting that the Kansas Senate's top GOP leader supports "unfair" tax increases and "punishing" spending cuts to balance the state budget.

Brownback spokeswoman Melika Willoughby responded in a Wednesday evening email to criticism of the governor's proposals from Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita and three other GOP leaders in the chamber.

The senators criticized Brownback for proposing to boost taxes on cigarettes, beer, wine and liquor instead of repealing an income tax break for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners. The senators also said the governor relied too heavily on accounting moves.

Willoughby challenged Wagle to draft her own budget-balancing plan.

Willoughby's email concluded, "Until then, our budget solves the challenges of today, and provides sustainable answers for the future."

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5:55 p.m.

Four Republican leaders in the Kansas Senate have issued a joint statement criticizing GOP Gov. Sam Brownback's budget-balancing proposals.

The statement Wednesday criticized Brownback for proposing to increase taxes on wine, liquor, beer and cigarettes and for not agreeing to the repeal of an income tax break for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners.

It also said "a real structural fix" was "noticeably absent" and that the governor relied too heavily on accounting moves and shifting funds internally.

The statement was from Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita, Vice President Jeff Longbine of Emporia, Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park and Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn of Sedgwick.

Brownback's office did not immediately respond.

Kansas faces projected budget shortfalls totaling $1.1 billion through July 2019.

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4:20 p.m.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is proposing to freeze the state's contributions to pensions for teachers and government workers to help balance the state budget.

The proposal outlined Wednesday would continue the contribution rates for the 2016 fiscal year, which ended June 30. The state would contribute $299 million annually through fiscal 2019.

The state has been boosting its contributions each year to help close a long-term gap between the pension system's anticipated revenues and the benefits promised to workers and retirees. The gap stood at $8.5 billion at the end of 2015.

A 2012 law put Kansas on the path to eliminating the gap in 2033. Brownback's proposal would delay it 10 years.

Brownback's proposal would cut state pension costs by a total of $425 million through June 2019.

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3:15 p.m.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's budget-balancing proposals include forcing all 286 local public schools districts into a single state health insurance plan for their employees.

The health insurance measure outlined by the governor Wednesday was included in a legislative consultant's report last year on potential government efficiencies.

Brownback projects that the idea would save the state $120 million over the two years starting July 1. Kansas provides $4.1 billion a year in aid to its school districts.

Supporters contend a single health plan would have more leverage in seeking lower premiums and discounts from health care providers.

But Wichita schools lobbyist Diane Gjerstad was skeptical the savings would materialize. She said her district has worked with local health care providers to obtain discounts.

School districts also would lose some local control.

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2:45 p.m.

The Kansas House's majority leader says lawmakers have little appetite for Gov. Sam Brownback's plan to sell off the state's right to collect tobacco settlement dollars.

Republican Rep. Don Hineman of Dighton said Wednesday that the state would be locked into a financial deal for decades "on terms that favor the investment bankers."

Brownback's budget proposals assume that the tobacco funds move would generate a one-time cash payment of at least $530 million for the state to use in bolstering its budget.

Kansas and other states receive annual payments from a 1990s legal settlement with tobacco companies. The share for Kansas is between $55 million and $60 million a year.

Tobacco dollars are used in Kansas to finance children's programs. Kansas Action for Children is strongly criticizing Brownback's proposal.

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2:25 p.m.

The chairwoman of the Kansas Senate Ways and Means Committee said she wants to consider proposals for cutting spending to eliminate a shortfall in the current state budget.

Republican Sen. Carolyn McGinn of Sedgwick was skeptical Wednesday of GOP Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal to liquidate a $317 million state investment fund to close most of the gap.

The state faces a projected $342 million shortfall in its budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30. Legislators don't think they can raise taxes quickly enough to help.

Brownback wants to liquidate the investment fund and loan those revenues to general government programs, paying it back over seven years - and avoiding cuts.

McGinn said lawmakers probably cannot pass a bill quickly enough to execute Brownback's plan by June 30.

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12:45 p.m.

Democrats in the Kansas Legislature are harshly criticizing Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's proposals for balancing the state budget.

State Rep. Tom Sawyer of Wichita described the package outlined Wednesday by Brownback as "a pile of garbage." Sawyer is the top Democrat on the House Taxation Committee.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka called many of the proposals from the governor "taking hocus pocus budgeting to a new level."

Brownback's proposals include diverting highway funds to general government programs, scaling back the state's contributions to public employee pensions and liquidating a state investment fund.

His proposals also include raising taxes on cigarettes, wine, liquor and beer.

Democrats blame the state's budget problems on personal income tax cuts enacted by Republican legislators in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging.

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11:55 a.m.

Several hundred people are rallying at the Kansas Statehouse in opposition to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and in favor of liberal causes.

The organizers called Wednesday's event the People's Agenda rally, and it covers a wide range of issues, including LGBT and voting rights, expanded access to health care and lessening the influence of special-interest group money in elections.

The rally came a day after Brownback gave his annual State of the State address. He declared, "By many measures, Kansas is the envy of the world."

Rally organizer Davis Hammett said the event represented "the people's State of the State." He is president of the Topeka-based advocacy group Loud Light.

Hammett said rally organizers want to put the state's most vulnerable and marginalized citizens first in policy.

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11:10 a.m.

Republicans in the Kansas House are reacting cautiously to GOP Gov. Sam Brownback's tax and budget-balancing proposals.

House Taxation Committee Chairman and Assaria Republican Steven Johnson said Wednesday that the governor's proposals for $74 million a year in new taxes for business owners is a starting point but lawmakers may have to go farther.

Johnson's committee already has drafted a bill to repeal an income tax break for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners championed by Brownback. The change would raise $260 million a year.

Brownback is proposing to reinstate income taxes on royalties and rents and to increase companies' annual filing fees.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman and Bunker Hill Republican Troy Waymaster said he's concerned about Brownback's proposals on pensions and liquidating a state investment fund.

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10:25 a.m.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is giving legislators an option for raising taxes for business owners without ending an income tax break that he's championed.

The governor proposed Wednesday that the state reinstate personal income taxes on royalties and rents. They have been exempt under a 2012 policy that also exempts the profits of more than 330,000 farmers and business owners.

Even some GOP lawmakers want to repeal the full exemption.

Taxing royalties and rents would raise $40 million annually, starting in July.

Brownback also proposes to boost for-profit companies' annual filing fee to $200 from $40, starting July 1 for another $34 million annually.

Each partner or person holding at least 5 percent of a firm's stock would pay the fee, rather than just the company paying it once.

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10:15 a.m.

Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal to sell of the state's right to collect tobacco settlement dollars is likely to face strong opposition from children's advocates.

The advocacy group Kansas Action for Children was criticizing the idea well before Brownback proposed it as a budget-balancing step Wednesday.

His proposal is to sell all or part of the rights to collect the Kansas share to funds from a 1990s legal settlement between states and tobacco companies. The state receives between $55 million and $60 million a year.

Brownback's budget assumes the state can raise $530 million in cash from such a deal.

Tobacco dollars finance programs for children. Brownback's budget proposes to have general tax dollars finance those programs, but children's advocates have said such funding is far more vulnerable to being cut.

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9:55 a.m.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is projecting that his proposal to boost taxes on liquor, wine and beer would raise more than $50 million a year.

The proposal outlined Wednesday would double the state's liquor enforcement tax to 16 percent from 8 percent on July 1.

Consumers pay the tax when they purchase beer, wine and liquor at liquor stores, microbreweries and farm wineries. Clubs, restaurants and caterers pay the tax when they purchase their alcoholic beverages from distributors.

The proposed increase is part of Brownback's plan for closing projected budget shortfalls totaling $1.1 billion through June 2019.

He estimates that the alcohol tax increase would raise $52 million during the 2018 fiscal year that begins July 1 and nearly $55 million in fiscal 2019.

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9:10 a.m.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is proposing to increase taxes and fees for business owners and to boost state liquor and cigarette taxes to address the state's budget problems.

The governor also outlined proposals Wednesday to continue diverting highway funds to general government programs, scale back state contributions to public employees and liquidate a state investment fund.

He also proposed selling off the state's rights to collect its share of funds from a 1990s legal settlement with tobacco companies to raise $530 million or more.

The cigarette tax would increase by $1 a pack, to $2.29. The state's liquor enforcement tax would double to 16 percent.

Business owners would pay personal income taxes on rents and royalty income that is now exempt and higher annual filing fees.

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5:50 a.m.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is preparing to release the details of proposed tax increases and other measures to address the state's budget problems.

Brownback Budget Director Shawn Sullivan was outlining the governor's proposals Wednesday during meetings of the House budget and tax committees and the Senate budget committee.

The governor said during his State of the State address Tuesday evening that he would propose "modest, targeted" tax increases. He wasn't specific but legislators expect him to seek higher liquor and tobacco taxes.

He also told reporters later that his proposals would include "one-time measures" to tide the state over until June 30.

The state faces a projected shortfall of $342 million in its current budget and gaps in funding for existing programs totaling $1.1 billion through June 2019.

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