Congressional Forum members learn of federal, state finances

Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

Members of the Congressional Forum who met Friday, Dec. 15, at Children’s Mercy Park learned about federal and state finances from U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Third Dist., and State Rep. Ron Ryckman, R- 78th Dist.

Rep. Yoder, consistent with the Republican Party line, promoted the proposed change in the federal income tax law that would double the individual tax deduction from $12,000 annually to $24,000. He said this should cover 90 percent of the income taxpayers.

A person who makes $24,000 or less would not have to pay any federal taxes, Rep. Yoder said. The proposed law, which has passed the U.S. House, would mean that a person making $54,000 a year would pay less than $1,800 a year in federal taxes. He said this needed tax reform has been a long time in coming and something that has been on his agenda for the seven years he has been in Congress. The last major tax revision was in 1986 during the administration of President Ronald Reagan.

Rep. Yoder said the proposed legislation should allow the economy to grow. The present growth rate is about 3 percent and the hope would be to increase the rate to 4 percent, he said.

Rep. Ryckman, who is a roofing contractor from Olathe, is the speaker of the Kansas House. His presentation traced how state programs and services are funded for the current year. The two largest sources for the state general fund are individual income taxes—about $2.927 billion–and sales and use tax, about $2.67 billion. Corporate and financial income tax amounts to about $316 million; tobacco taxes yield about $135.5 million. Other sources yield about $656.4 million. That amounts to a total of about $6.7 billion. About another $10 billion is “pass through” revenue that the state collects, but that legislators have little or no control over.

Ryckman then told how the money in the general fund is spent. Nearly two-thirds goes for education or about $4.2 billion, including funding for state colleges and universities and K-12. Nearly $400 million goes for public safety and nearly $1.7 billion goes to human services.

Ryckman said one of the major needs was for the state legislators to improve the funding of the Kansas Public Employees’ Retirement System. He said it is in better shape than it was.

An unknown factor facing state legislators will be how much the Kansas Supreme Court will determine what is “suitable” to fund K-12 education. The court has given the legislature until April 30 to come up with a plan.

State Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-36th Dist., said one plan that has been suggested would increase funding by $600 million annually. She said that if this could be phased in over a few years in a “stair-step” plan, it would be more acceptable to taxpayers.

Rep. Moore said that legislators are reluctant to increase taxes in an election year. All seats in the Kansas House of Representatives will be up in 2018.

The Congressional Forum is sponsored by the Kansas City, Kansas, Area Chamber of Commerce.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.

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