Daily Archives: Sept. 3, 2013

Kansas slow getting on board passenger rail expansion

Former Kansas Lt. Gov. Shelby Smith of Wichita has been championing expanded passenger rail service in Kansas for years. He gave his first testimony on the topic nearly five years ago, and has made 16 appearances before legislative committees in Topeka. Smith said there is strong support for Option 3 of an Amtrak feasibility study, which would link Kansas to passenger train service in Oklahoma and Texas and provide for daytime stops in Arkansas City, Wichita, Emporia, Topeka, Lawrence and Kansas City. But he is getting frustrated with how long it is taking Kansas political leaders to act, noting that Oklahoma revived passenger rail service in 1999. “For Kansas to take another 15 years is embarrassing,” he said.

Number of Americans not paying income tax should drop

Mitt Romney got in trouble during last year’s presidential campaign for saying that the 47 percent of Americans who didn’t pay federal income taxes in 2010 thought they were victims and would vote for President Obama no matter what. As many people noted, most of that 47 percent were retirees, people who were disabled, college students, people in the military and people who were working (often more than one job) but didn’t make much money. Another big reason for the higher than normal percentage was the Great Recession, which caused many people to lose income. As the recovery continues, the percentage is expected to drop significantly. The Tax Policy Center estimates that the share of Americans paying no federal income tax will drop to 43 percent this year and will continue to fall to about 33 percent in 2024.

Cutting state spending more would be costly

State income tax cuts are projected to result in large budget shortfalls in coming years. Cutting state spending to cover this gap wouldn’t be easy – especially when costs of major budget items, such as education and Medicaid, are expected to increase. K-12 education (49.8 percent of the state general fund budget), post-secondary education (12.6 percent), Medicaid (19.8 percent) and other human services (6.9 percent) represent 89.1 percent of state spending, noted Duane Goossen, a former state budget director and vice president for fiscal and health policy at the Kansas Health Institute. “Clearly, education and human services represent such a large part of the SGF that it’s impossible to make significant budget changes without affecting these areas,” Goossen said.