Kelly to poorest Kansans: Keep giving unto Caesar

TOPEKA – In one felled swoop of her veto pen on Friday, Governor Laura Kelly denied tax relief to 341,000 low-income Kansas taxpayers who, under the Republican tax relief bill HB2284, would have had their income taxes reduced to “0.”

The plan, which among other aspects would have established a uniform 5.25% rate tax assessment on all income tax filers, would have reduced to “0” the current income taxes on filers from $6,150 – $23,000 per year. Over 20 percent of low-income filers would have paid no tax at all, state revenue records show.

Still, Kelly denied the effort to allow the poorest taxpayers in the state to keep more of their income in a time of inflation-ravaged prices, calling the Republican-led plan to give back those dollars “reckless,” while the state retains its highest-ever tax-funded surplus – some $2.8 billion.

The drama over Kansas tax relief follows consumer prices which jumped a cumulative 16 percent since 2019 according to federal measurements, though anecdotal comparisons show increases in price for some individual goods up some 120 percent. Kelly’s veto comes as poor Kansans struggle with not only higher prices for household purchases but also some of the highest consumer interest rates on credit cards, car loans and home loans since the Carter years of the 1970s, and only weeks after she announced the formation of a political action committee targeting Republicans in upcoming legislative races to attempt to quash the GOP’s supermajority in the statehouse.

Still it is the direct withholding of tax relief as the state holds its largest ever budget balance that was on the minds of Republicans Saturday at the Kansas GOP convention in Overland Park. Frustration was clear among legislators, who said they have to continually try to explain to people in their districts why taxpayers can’t get any of their money back while Kansas is engorged with surplus cash.

“The governor clearly isn’t looking at the actual math, or she really just doesn’t want to give Kansas tax payers any of their money back,” said 12th District State Senator Caryn Tyson, chairman of the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee. “She’ll commit a $1 billion to some foreign corporate giant, but we have to go back home and explain why corporations are more important than the people who paid that money in in the first place.”

Tyson noted that besides changes to the income tax equation, the Republican plan would have exempted the first $100,000 in property value of homes before the state’s 20 mill school funding tax levy was applied. Properties valued under $100,000 would have paid no tax at all compared to those which now get an exemption of the first $40,000 in value. There are over 1 million individual residential properties in Kansas. The change, Tyson said, would have raised the number of Kansans fully exempt from the 20 mill state property tax from 147,000 to 350,000.

Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson said the veto was more about politics than economics.

“Today the governor again put a radical ideology ahead of the people,” Masterson said in a statement. “She is so focused on hyper-partisan politics that she has again vetoed a compromised tax plan that was primarily designed to increase the take-home pay for every Kansan and bring sustainable tax relief for hard working taxpayers who are suffering under Bidenflation.”

Speaker Dan Hawkins said legislators hoped their third try at tax relief would be a charm, but those hopes were dashed.

 “Governor Kelly has now axed the third tax relief bill in less than a year, choosing political wins over increasing Kansans’ paychecks,” Hawkins said. He noted the plan the governor had denied would automatically adjust for inflation, would have totally eliminated property tax for some homeowners, simplified the tax code and put an immediate end to sales tax on groceries and income tax on Social Security.

Kelly presented her own plan earlier in the session with the similar exemptions of the first $100,000 in property value and the exemption of  Social Security payments from income taxes. still she termed the Republican plan “irresponsible,”  but said she was still committed to some form of tax relief for Kansans before the end of the session and would call a special session if she had to. 

Dane Hicks is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and the United States Marine Corps Officer Candidate School at Quantico, VA. He is the author of novels "The Skinning Tree" and "A Whisper For Help." As publisher of the Anderson County Review in Garnett, KS., he is a recipient of the Kansas Press Association's Boyd Community Service Award as well as more than 60 awards for excellence in news, editorial and photography.