Kansans rally for repeal of Brownback tax cuts

Coalition of education and social services advocates stage event outside governor’s office

by Jim McLean, KHI News Service

About 100 people rallied Wednesday within earshot of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s office to demand the repeal of income tax cuts they say are crippling the state.

The Rev Up Kansas coalition staged the event to call attention to the state’s ongoing budget problems, which organizers said are the result of tax cuts that Brownback championed in the mistaken belief that they would jump-start the Kansas economy.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president of Kansas Action for Children, said the steep drop in revenue is forcing cuts in programs that are essential to low-income children and their families.

“I simply don’t believe that Kansans want tax policies that short-circuit investments in the next generation,” Cotsoradis said. “Let’s reverse course before it’s too late for an entire generation of Kansas children.”

News of additional revenue shortfalls added urgency to the rally.

Late Tuesday, the Kansas Department of Revenue reported that the state had collected $11.2 million less than estimated in March. With three months left to go in the 2015 fiscal year, tax collections are running a total of $48 million behind already lowered estimates.

“When one is in a hole, one is advised to stop digging,” said Mark Farr, a Nickerson High School science teacher on leave to serve as president of the Kansas National Education Association.

Noting that the hole had just become $11.2 million deeper, Farr said, “We must agree to end the governor’s failed experiment.”

Just before the legislative session started in January, plummeting revenues forced Brownback to order allotments — a combination of cuts and cash transfers — to close a projected $300 million budget gap. But only weeks later, continued revenue shortfalls forced him to make another $44.5 million in cuts to state universities and public schools. If tax collections continue to fall short of projections in April and May, additional cuts will be necessary to ensure the state ends the fiscal year in the black.

Bigger problems lie ahead in the budget year that begins July 1. Brownback and lawmakers are facing a projected deficit of at least $600 million. A Senate-passed budget bill partially closes the gap but would require tax increases of $141 million to balance.

Speakers at the rally said repealing the income tax cuts would be the best way to solve the budget problems.
Former state budget director Duane Goossen said the first year the tax cuts were in effect, the state collected $700 million less in revenue than the year before and that collections have continued to drop.

“Kansas does not have nearly enough revenue to cover normal, reasonable expenses,” said Goossen, now a senior fellow at the Kansas Center for Economic Growth and the author of the Kansas Budget blog.

Kansas Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan continues to say that the revenue shortfalls are a “temporary” byproduct of the tax cuts. Both he and Brownback point to improving employment numbers as evidence that the administration’s tax policies are spurring economic growth.

Last week, Brownback said adjusted statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor showed Kansas ranked second in its five-state region for private sector job growth in 2014.

“These corrected numbers show that our tax policy is working, bringing jobs and people to Kansas,” the governor said in a news release.

Brownback has said he believes higher sales tax receipts eventually will replace some of the revenue being lost because of the income tax cuts. So far this fiscal year, sales and use tax receipts are $40 million higher than estimated. However, they were $7.8 million short of projections in March.

The nonprofit KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor reporting collaboration. All stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KHI.org when a story is reposted online.
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Rain may continue tonight

Kansas City area forecast. (National Weather Service graphic)
Kansas City area forecast. (National Weather Service graphic)

Heavy rains fell this morning in Wyandotte County and the region, but there is another chance of thunderstorms tonight and Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

Today it will be cloudy as a cold front moves across the area, and temperatures warm up to 70 degrees this afternoon, the weather service said.

There will be a north northeast wind of around 9 percent, with a 40 percent chance of rain today, according to the weather service.

Tonight, there is a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, the weather service said. The low will be around 45. There will be a northeast wind of 7 to 16 mph, with gusts up to 24 mph.

Friday, expect a 30 percent chance of showers before 1 p.m., the weather service said. The day will be partly sunny with a high near 54. The north northwest wind will be 14 to 22 mph, with gusts as high as 30 mph. Friday night’s low will be 33.

Dry weather will return both Saturday and Sunday as high pressure settles across the region, with showers and storms returning on Monday as the next storm system impacts the region, the weather service said.

Saturday’s high will be near 63, and there will be sunny skies, the weather service said. Saturday night’s low will be 44.

For Easter Sunday, expect mostly sunny skies with a high near 65, according to the weather service. Sunday night, there is a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, with a low around 49.

Monday, there will be a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms with a high near 72, the weather service said.

Monday night, there is a 50 percent chance of rain with a low of 55, according to the weather service.

BPU candidates address alternative energy, customer service

Participating in a candidate forum for the Board of Public Utilities for the April 7 general election recently were, left to right, Chris McCord, running for BPU 3rd District, at large; Freddy Wilson Jr., running for BPU, 1st District; Murrel Bland, moderator; Norm Scott, running for BPU, 3rd District, at large; and Robert "Bob" Milan Sr., running for BPU, 1st District. (Staff photo)
Participating in a candidate forum for the Board of Public Utilities for the April 7 general election recently were, left to right, Chris McCord, running for BPU 3rd District, at large; Freddy Wilson Jr., running for BPU, 1st District; Murrel Bland, moderator; Norm Scott, running for BPU, 3rd District, at large; and Robert “Bob” Milan Sr., running for BPU, 1st District. (Staff photo)

by Mary Rupert

Two contested Board of Public Utilities positions are on the ballot for the general election, April 7.

Chris McCord and Norman D. Scott are running for the BPU, 3rd District, at large position; there is no incumbent. The candidates run citywide in Kansas City, Kan.

Incumbent Robert “Bob” Milan Sr. and challenger Freddy Wilson Jr. are running for the BPU, 1st District position. The candidates run in the 1st District.

Incumbent Jeff Bryant is running unopposed for the BPU 3rd District position.

At a March 18 forum sponsored by Business West and other groups at the Kansas City Kansas Community College, candidates mentioned issues including more environmentally friendly energy; improving customer service; and lowering the payment-in-lieu-of taxes fee on BPU bills.

BPU, 3rd District, at large

When asked to name some areas they could make a contribution to the board, McCord said the areas included improving customer service, improving street light repair, and working with the Unified Government commissioners about getting the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) fee on BPU bills reduced. The UG sets the PILOT fee.

Scott said customer service was the No. 1 issue, and renewable energy also was important. “We also need to talk about fiduciary responsibility of the board,” he said, adding it needs to be open and transparent.

Scott said he would be looking at business practices, and also he favors renewable, alternative energy. He cited an example of a business that runs on alternative energy, with no footprint.

McCord said that although alternative energy was a great concept, he did not think there was enough production to power the United States from wind turbines and alternative fuels. “We have to plan for maintaining and upgrading the system at the lowest possible cost by planning ahead to do these things,” he said.

Scott said he disagreed about a need to have constant big generators. There is currently a $250 million upgrade on the BPU Nearman plant that will have to be paid during 20 years. “At the end of 20 years, we’ll have a bunch of coal ash to take care of, hazardous waste,” he said. The utility has to deal with not only emissions, but also the end product of burning coal, he said.

“This is why renewable energies is such an issue,” Scott said. He favored clean, renewable energy, citing an example of hydroelectric power. An initial investment in renewable power would pay off in the long term, he said.

McCord said the PILOT fee is his top issue for potential cost savings. The UG places the PILOT fee on BPU bills. He said the BPU provides more than $21 million worth of service to the UG and its buildings. “We need to make the city be more energy-efficient,” he said.

McCord said he is a bipartisan candidate who can build a consensus. A graduate of Washington High School and Kansas State University, McCord has operated his own business in Wyandotte County. He is active in several community organizations.

“It’s vitally important that we keep local control of the Board of Public Utilities,” McCord said.

He said customer service could be improved, and perhaps it would be possible for the BPU to work with the UG on improving customer service. Currently the UG is working with a program at the KU Hospital to improve customer service.

McCord said everybody who works at the utility should be included in efforts to improve customer service.

Scott, a retired business agent for a union, has been active in volunteer work and is also the chair of the Wyandotte County Democratic Party.

“The reason I’m running is to basically give the average citizen a voice on this board,” Scott said.

He said he would respond to residents’ questions and would welcome their suggestions. Efficient operations and the lowest possible rates for homeowners and business owners with the best service are his goals.

BPU, 1st District

Incumbent Robert “Bob” Milan Sr., a candidate for BPU, 1st District, said his concerns include making sure that reliable utility services are provided, to continue the conversion from coal power to natural gas, to make sure the utility has the repairs it needs and to retain the rates at their lowest.

Freddy Wilson Jr., also running for BPU, 1st District, said he would want to look at alternative sources of energy, other than coal. He also said he would like to look at improving customer service.

Milan, who has served 24 years on the BPU board, said the BPU’s purposes are to provide electric service on demand at a reasonable cost, and to provide quality water service. He said there may be several areas to be addressed, including customer service. BPU is in the top 100 of the 22,000 public utilities in America, he said.

Wilson discussed alternate energy, specifically mentioning wind energy. He suggested putting windmills along the riverbanks. Sometimes he sees ash on his car left by a coal-burning BPU plant, he said. “It seems like a lot of money in the beginning, but the long-term payoff would be worth it, if not for us, for our children to come,” Wilson said.

When asked about cost savings, Wilson said the payment-in-lieu of taxes program is not good, and repeated the point about getting the city to save on its utility bill. He said he thinks people will pay more in the long run for using coal as it costs to transport it, burn it, and then deal with financial consequences from the EPA. The utility should invest in alternative energy now and enjoy the benefits later, he believes.

Milan said that coal-burning plants have already been ordered to convert to natural gas or renewable energy, and he had just visited the Dogwood gas plant, of which the BPU owns a part. The issue is really how much time the utility will have in order to convert from coal to gas, as having less time is more expensive.

“We’re trying to say, give us more time, EPA, so we can gradually go from converting from coal to gas,” Milan said. He said natural gas and renewables are really the “name of the game” for the future.

During the campaign, Wilson said the BPU’s rates were too high, and if elected, he would like to reduce them. Wilson is a lifelong resident of Wyandotte County. He owns a business that builds and rehabs houses. He said he is seeking office because he wants to help and serve people.

Milan, who is president of the Northeast Optimist Club, and a past president of the state AARP, also serves on several other community boards. He retired in 1987 as a federal representative with the U.S. Department of Labor, with 32 years of service.

Milan said the community is blessed to have a public-owned utility. In other cities, with private utilities, residents do not have the luxury to come to the meetings and tell the utility what they want, he said. He said the BPU is under a mandate from the EPA to reduce pollution, and it is going to do it.

The BPU candidate forum will be shown on cable television from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 6, on the college’s cable channel, 17 on Time Warner Cable and 146 on Google TV.

To see the video on YouTube, visit www.kckcc.edu and click on the YouTube icon in the bottom right corner, then select the candidate forum for the BPU, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji6rmWo54Cg.

Advance voting is already underway for the April 7 election. For more information on voting, visit http://wyandottedaily.com/walk-in-advance-voting-begins-today-march-28/
or www.wycovotes.org.