ThinkProgress: Hey Kansas, If You Pay Taxes You Are ‘Wealthy’

William J. Upton State Affairs Manager, ATR
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According to Scott Keyes, a senior reporter for ThinkProgress.org, if you pay taxes, you are “wealthy.” Keyes writes, “Last year, Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS) signed a package of nearly $1.1 billion of tax breaks that will predominantly go to the wealthy.” The only problem is that his argument is entirely bunk.

In 2012, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed into law a tax reform plan that consolidated the state’s three income tax brackets into two. Before the reforms, Kansas families making $0 to $30,000 paid an income tax rate of 3.5 percent. Families making between $30,000 and $60,000 paid 6.25 percent – families making above $60,000 paid 6.45 percent. Additionally, the state’s standard deduction was $4,500 for an individual filer and $6,000 for families.

Post-2012 reforms, the Kansas state income tax was reduced to only two brackets. Families making between $0 and $30,000 would pay a rate of 3 percent, and families making above $30,000 would pay a rate of 4.9 percent. The standard deduction was expanded as well. An individual filer can now deduct $9,000 as well as families. All-in-all, families with income below $60,000 saw a sizable income tax cut. But evidently, per Keyes, folks making anywhere between $0 and $60,000 are “wealthy.”

Now, granted, the 2013 tax reforms in Kansas – not to be confused with the 2012 reforms – did tweak the standard deduction, reducing individual filers to $5,500 and families to $7,500 (which is still higher than pre-2012). The 2013 reforms also restored the low-income food tax credit.

U.S. Census data shows that roughly 60 percent of Kansas families earn under $75,000 annually. Nearly 40 percent of Kansas households earn under $50,000. The median family income is $64,585. Only 9.6 percent of Kansas families earn over $150,000 per year. It’s hard to argue that Governor Brownback’s reforms were targeted to help the “rich” or “wealthy” unless you coldly consider a family making roughly $60,000 a year on equal footing with billionaires like Tom Steyer and Warren Buffett. Note, Steyer is a board member and reportedly a major donor to ThinkProgress’s parent organization, Center for American Progress.

In addition to confusing just who is a “wealthy” Kansan, Keyes seems perplexed as to why anti-poverty funding would be shifted to western – rural – Kansas. He writes: “The Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, which distributes money to shelters across the state, changed its formula for doling out funding this year to send more money to western Kansas, though it’s not entirely clear why.”

While underpopulated, most western Kansas counties maintain poverty rates ranging from 12 to 17 percent according to the United State Department of Agriculture. These counties additionally lack the resources and infrastructure that most Kansan urban centers enjoy. It should be apparent that the formula shift is a fiscally responsible move to prioritize neglected parts of the state. But then again, this doesn’t fit the narrative that ThinkProgress wants to create.

The truth is, Governor Sam Brownback and the state legislature has enacted historic tax relief for middle and working class families in Kansas and has brought much needed relief to the impoverished of western Kansas. That’s the truth Scott Keyes and ThinkProgress don’t want you to see.