Daily Archives: Feb. 7, 2012

Experts and advocates diverge on tax policy

 

Jonathan Williams, of ALEC, talks with about 40 lawmakers, lobbyists and citizens at a luncheon in Topeka Tuesday.

TOPEKA — States with lower tax burdens and reduced government spending grow faster, a tax policy specialist with the American Legislative Exchange Council told lawmakers Tuesday.

“People vote with their feet,” said Jonathan Williams, who directs the tax and fiscal policy task force for ALEC, a leading limited government think tank. “And people are moving to states with lower rates.”

Williams’ message, which closely matches Gov. Sam Brownback’s message on taxes, comes as members of the House Taxation Committee begin this week to hear the pros and cons of Brownback’s proposal to reduce individual income tax rates, eliminate taxes on most small businesses and make up for reduced tax revenues by scrapping many popular tax credits and deductions. 

Brownback’s plan has faced widespread criticism from those who enjoy home mortgage deductions and from lower-income workers who benefit from the earned income tax credit, both which are on the list Brownback would do away with. And in a news conference Tuesday it faced more push back from a coalition of education, healthcare and clergy groups. (More on that in a bit.)

But there’s agreement among some of the state’s most influential and conservative groups on some of the core aspects of Brownback’s proposal, such as reducing tax rates and slowing the growth of government spending.

On Wednesday, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce’s tax reform coalition plans a 2 p.m. news conference in the statehouse that is expected to include Brownback, chairmen of the House and Senate tax committees and people from a variety of business groups.

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Former Penn. governor and cable celebrity Ed Rendell to keynote for Kansas Dems

Rendell

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, widely reputed as one Democratic Party’s most dynamic public voices, will be the featured speaker when Kansas Democrats gather for their annual Washington Day event in Topeka Feb. 25, the state party announced today.

Rendell served two terms as governor following two terms as mayor of Philadelphia. He was chairman of the Democratic National Commitee in 2000, when Bill Clinton won his second term as president.

Considered a centrist in the Democratic party, Rendell remains closely linked to the Clintons. He was a leading supporter and campaign surrogate for then-Sen. Hillary Clinton in 2008, when she sought the party’s presidential nomination that ultimately was won by Barack Obama.

After the election, Rendell remained in the public eye, supporting – and sometimes criticizing – Democratic politicians and policies as a frequent guest on cable-network talk shows.

Last year, after leaving the governorship, he signed as on-air political analyst for the NBC and MSNBC networks.

Rendell recently confirmed that he is one of the leaders of an investment group that wants to purchase Philadelphia’s two main newspapers, The Inquirer and the Daily News. The Philadelphia papers were sister papers of The Eagle until the 2006 breakup of the Knight Ridder Corp.

Rendell will speak during the Washington Days banquet at the Ramada Convention Center Downtown Topeka.

For more information, call 785-234-0425 or visit www.ksdp.org.

City divided on when to change Douglas chokepoint

The Wichita City Council has approved a traffic plan for Douglas that calls for the eventual elimination of a chokepoint that narrows the street to one lane eastbound for the block in front of Eaton Place.

At least one council member supports making that change as soon as possible, while the main planner for the area wants to hold off a while.

The plan itself does not call for immediate change, but is designed to phase in over time as redevelopment takes place along Wichita’s downtown main street.

Funded with $125,000 in federal and state grants, the traffic study makes a series of recommendations to make Douglas easier to use for motorists, pedestrians and public-transit users.

The Design Workshop, a Denver-based consulting firm, recommends that the city restore two-way traffic, both directions, on Douglas all the way through downtown from McLean to Washington. About 10 years ago, at the request of a developer, the city narrowed Douglas to one eastbound lane for about a block to replace parallel parking with angle parking in front of the Eaton Place.

That causes congestion, as eastbound traffic leaving downtown is forced to merge from two lanes down to one lane between Emporia and St. Francis streets.

Council member Michael O’Donnell said he supports moving toward eliminating the bottleneck as soon as possible.

“It is that quick fix that would make it easier” to travel through the area, he said.

Scott Knebel, downtown revitalization manager in the Metropolitan Area Planning Department, acknowledged that the bottleneck causes traffic problems at rush hour, but recommended against acting rapidly to change that.

He said fledgling retail businesses in the Eaton block are “fragile” and benefit from the easier access that angled parking provides as compared to parallel parking. The city is working to provide more angle spaces on side streets.

Before restriping Douglas for four lanes in front of the Eaton block, “We need to make sure we have a plan for convenient and short-term parking for their customers,” Knebel said.

O’Donnell, however, said every other business in every other block on Douglas downtown gets by with parallel parking in front.

The report also recommends:

  • Installing trees and landscaping in what is now the center lane of Douglas, with turn pockets only at intersections.

-Parallel parking on both sides of the street throughout downtown.

  • Curb extensions to keep cars from trying to park too close to intersections and to reduce the distance people have to walk in traffic to cross the street.

  • Improved street furniture, public art, trash cans, etc, along with wider sidewalks to allow for more outdoor dining and activities.

-Bus shelters every two blocks.