State Rep. J. Robert Brookens of Marion shared his insights and concerns at the Interagency meeting Friday in Marion. He spoke about government reforms, education, taxes, and the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.
He said it is hard to know what is going to happen in the legislature next year. Gov. Sam Brownback and his administration are coming up with reform proposals, many of which have not yet been put on paper.
Plans are underway to reorganize several state agencies, Brookens said. For instance, the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services or SRS will be replaced by Children and Family Services or CFS. Many services now provided by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment will be transferred to CFS. Some services from other departments also will be transferred to CFS.
Brookens said in education Brownback wants to increase the percentage of students who are career- and college-ready when they graduate from high school. Brookens is unhappy with Brownback’s proposal to make the local-option budget unlimited as a fundraiser for schools. He said it would not benefit rural communities.
“Our tax load is too high,” Brookens said, but he doesn’t agree with others in the legislature who want to eliminate state income taxes.
“How would eliminating state income taxes affect you?” Brookens asked.
He noted that Texas does not have an income tax but as of May 2006, corporations pay a one percent tax on gross receipts.
He believes the three-legged stool of income, property, and sales taxes needs to be maintained so as not to give one group an advantage over the others.
He said the governor has backed down from eliminating income taxes but is talking about taking away certain credits and exemptions and going to a lower two-tiered bracket in an effort to “create a more level playing field.”
A balance in taxes is the most critical for rural areas, Brookens said. He quoted a man who said the most important thing to do to promote growth is to make sure that restrictive regulations are removed.
Brookens supports the Rural Opportunity Zones law that provides a state income tax exemption for up to five years to individuals who move to an ROZ county from outside the state and have not had a Kansas source of income of more than $10,000 per year over the past five years. Marion County is one of 50 counties that has been designated an ROZ county. The law also provides for student loan forgiveness of $3,000 a year up to five years for individuals who graduate from an accredited post-secondary institution and move to an ROZ county.
He said a legislator’s actions have to reflect what is good for the entire state, not just the district from which he comes.
An idea that is being floated regarding KPERS is to provide a “defined benefit” for up to a specified level of income and a “defined contribution” or investment on income above that.