WICHITA, Kan. — A tax exemption enabling business owners to pay no state tax on business income is a boon to many Kansas lawmakers.
Nearly 70 percent of lawmakers or their spouses own a business or property that allows them to benefit from the exemption, according to an analysis from The Wichita Eagle (http://bit.ly/2cXTl8Z ).
To determine whether lawmakers qualified, The Eagle reviewed the statements of substantial interest for all 165 lawmakers, another 50 legislative candidates and all six state executive officers. The Eagle also checked the Secretary of State’s business database and conducted numerous interviews with lawmakers to determine how businesses were organized and whether they qualified for the exemption. The actual tax returns are not public.
The analysis found that those with the potential to take advantage of the law include 35 of 40 state senators and 79 of 125 state representatives. Gov. Sam Brownback, who championed the 2012 law, also stands to benefit, along with the lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and insurance commissioner.
The law exempts the owners of limited liability companies, S-corporations, limited partnerships, family farms and sole proprietorships from paying state income tax on their non-wage business income. The law also extends to other sources of pass-through income, such as rents, royalties and trusts.
The tax exemption has come under increasing scrutiny as the state has struggled with budget shortfalls in recent years. Since the tax cuts went into effect, the state has cut its budget multiple times and increased the sales tax in 2015. Attempts in the Legislature to roll back the exemption fell short of passage the past two years after the governor promised to veto the bills.
Brownback wouldn’t discuss his family’s taxes when asked at the Capitol last month. But his spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, said it is a benefit for the state to have business owners involved in decisions about tax policy as members of the Legislature.
“They understand the real implications of tax policy for their fellow citizens and we welcome their expertise as business people and policy makers,” she said.
But readers who asked The Eagle to look into the lawmakers’ business holdings said having so many lawmakers potentially benefiting from the law presented a troubling conflict of interest.
“It certainly raises questions about whose interests they’re representing: their own personal interests or the public,” said Steve Kimball, a 72-year-old retired teacher from Belle Plaine. “That raises an eyebrow.”
Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com