Brownback's tax incentives to draw people to rural Kansas questioned

The Kansas City StarJuly 18, 2011 

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is trolling for people, but with bait that may not work.

Trying to rebuild rural Kansas, the Brownback administration is offering income tax breaks and student loan subsidies to lure people into areas with dwindling populations.

The Legislature approved the tax breaks this year, giving the new governor one of his first legislative victories.

Brownback touts the incentives as a key tool for fostering economic growth, but experts wonder how many people would move just to avoid state taxes.

“I have a hard time seeing this as being immediately persuasive in setting in motion a large population movement,” said Mike White, a demographer at Brown University.

While economic factors motivate people to move — and taxes are part of that — much of it has to do with job opportunities and the cultural and recreational amenities that a community has to offer.

“In the prime working ages, people not only emphasize issues like taxes … but also the availability of employment and the quality and growth prospects for that employment,” White said.

The idea of tax incentives germinated on the campaign trail as Brownback met with rural leaders worried about their shrinking populations.

At Brownback’s behest, the Legislature agreed to waive state income taxes for five years for anyone moving from outside Kansas to one of 50 rural counties — known as rural opportunity zones. Kansans pay an average of about $1,800 a year in state income taxes.

The plan also allows the state to join with those counties to repay 20 percent of an outstanding student loan — up to $3,000 a year for five years — for college graduates who move choose to move to one of those counties, whether they’re from outside the state or not.

“This is a risk-free opportunity for us to draw attention to parts of our state that are losing population and offer another incentive to get people to move to Kansas,” said the governor’s spokeswoman, Sherriene Jones-Sontag.

State officials hope to lure back people who left Kansas and might want to return. Or they might attract others who want to trade busy city life for rural life in Kansas. They say they are already getting nibbles.

To read the complete article, visit www.kansascity.com.

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