Buckle up: Revenue debate begins

Get ready for some politics.

Starting at 8 am today, the first salvo in the Kansas budget fight will be fired. It’s… complicated, but here is the gist.

The Kansas Senate is first out the door with bills to fix revenue and budget issues. The House is waiting to see what happens.

The Senate strategy is three pronged. One bill would take money from a long-term investment fund (and pay it back over time) to help cover the budget gap this year. When debate starts, that amount is $100 million, but the fund has as much as $315 million available. There will be debate about the wisdom of yet another one-time fix, a favored Brownback strategy, though this time it is likely to be championed by Brownback’s foes as the only way out of the dire fix he has gotten us into. This fund will need to be paid back, but is a solution to the problems we face this year.

A second bill attempts to close the gap with cuts, including $128 million from K-12 public education, and $23 million from higher education. Many are balking at cutting more money from education when the first bill above leaves enough in the investment fund to make up the difference. We agree, there is room for more discussion and debate before once again leaning on school children to compensate for a failing tax plan. An insider "Pay Go" rule will require parliamentary gymnastics to make this happen.

Which brings the third bill, intended to remove the so called “loophole” allowing LLC businesses to pay no income tax, and raising income taxes on both low and high tax brackets in Kansas. Brownback loyalists are crying foul at “raising taxes!” while conveniently ignoring that they raised sales taxes a record amount last year. But the bill as it exists does not close the revenue-to-spending gap enough to actually pull the state out of crisis in coming years. The Senate needs to look to more effective plans (see Rise Up).

Still with us? In summary: one bill ponies up one-time money to get us to next year, in concert with another bill that cuts more spending to make that gap smaller, but at a cost (once again) to public education. The third bill raises taxes to to ensure more revenue in future years.

None of these bills should pass as presented, in our opinion, but represent a first step on which to build. The Senate needs to do that building today.

As if that weren’t enough, we still have not heard from the Kansas Supreme Court on how much (or if) Kansas needs to pump in to public education to meet its Constitutional obligations. The Court releases rulings on Fridays.

Follow along this morning with streaming audio feeds and Twitter feeds:

Buckle up.

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