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Kansas lawmakers will consider tax cuts during their special session


Let's go to a place now where Democrats and Republicans are working together. In Kansas, the Democratic governor and Republican-led legislature say they want to cut taxes during a special legislative session that starts today. This is notable because more than a decade ago, extreme tax cuts blew holes in the state budget for years and acted as a warning for policymakers nationwide. As Kansas Public Radio's Daniel Caudill reports, the state's in better financial shape now, but critics still worry about repeating what became known as the Kansas experiment.

DANIEL CAUDILL, BYLINE: It's hard to bring up tax cuts in the Sunflower State without talking about Republican former Governor Sam Brownback. In 2012, he signed off on sweeping cuts that led to multiple years of budget reductions. Road projects were sidelined. Medicaid benefits were cut. And some schools cut programs or shortened the school year to cope with shortfalls.

LAURA KELLY: We have been down that road before.

CAUDILL: Democratic Governor Laura Kelly won her first term in 2018 campaigning against the cuts, which were repealed the year before. But now the state has a $4 billion surplus, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have made tax cuts a top priority. Kelly says she supports some cuts but wants to be careful.

KELLY: We don't want to go back - not back to Brownback, not back to four-day school weeks, not back to crumbling roads, falling-down bridges.

CAUDILL: This week, lawmakers will vote on a bill that would eliminate taxes on Social Security benefits and ease state property taxes for homeowners. It would also lower state income tax rates, a key proposal for Republican House Speaker Dan Hawkins.

DAN HAWKINS: Too many family conversations in the living room are centered around higher prices and economic uncertainty. Kansas families deserve relief from inflation in the form of tax cuts.

CAUDILL: Kelly and Republican leaders have agreed to a compromise plan that would cost the state about $380 million per year. But some say the state shouldn't rush to spend its surplus, which stems from an influx of federal COVID relief funding. Neva Butkus is with the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

NEVA BUTKUS: After these large surpluses, you know, they don't stick around forever. Any really large, permanent tax cut can put a state at risk of then being in a budget deficit or a shortfall.

CAUDILL: And if they weren't busy enough with taxes, lawmakers will also consider a multimillion-dollar incentive to try and lure the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals across the state line from Missouri.

For NPR News, I'm Daniel Caudill in Topeka.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOUNT KIMBIE'S "FALL OUT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Daniel Caudill
[Copyright 2024 NPR]