Down the Rabbit Hole

A quick recap of where Kansas stands right now: Expenses exceed revenues by $800 million. Much of that is being closed by transfers from highway funds and other sources. But those stopgap measures, unsustainable as they are, still leave a $406 million gap yet to close.

This past week, the Kansas Legislature has struggled and whined and thrown plans against the wall. The Senate tax committee has been spinning in place for weeks. A few days ago, the House tax committee finally managed to pass a plan out to the House floor, a plan that raised sales tax and reduced exemptions, but did not repeal any of the infamous tax cuts that got us here in the first place.

In Topeka today, that plan failed. (Read about it at the Topeka CJ) It couldn't even pass a voice vote on the House floor.


Simply put, because it proposed raising taxes on all Kansans so that the few "job creators" could retain their tax cut gift from Governor Brownback.

In our budget forum last week, Annie McKay of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth noted that the nine "no income tax" states have higher per capita property and/or sales tax than Kansas does. (Watch it here) This is not about lowering taxes, and never has been. It is about lowering income tax because that preferentially favors the people at the top end of the income scale.

To be clear: Kansas cannot function without tax. But it can do so without income tax, if sales taxes are high enough.

And yet, it would appear that a collection of strange bedfellows have gathered to stop that. Progressives oppose the sales tax increase as regressive, even if food is kept separate. Moderates oppose the unbalanced fiscal platform that punishes one Kansan to the benefit of another. But these two groups have not, of late, constituted enough votes to block the extreme agenda pushed by Brownback and his allies.

However, their opposition has been joined by the farthest of the far-right, the legislators so far to the extreme that they cannot support any tax increase, much less one that is not offset by steep spending cuts.

These extremists are mired in an ideological whirlpool from which they cannot escape. They've signed no-tax pledges and zero-government promises that cannot be kept. They have proposed solutions that are one-time answers that cannot be brought to bear again. They are making risky debt choices and job growth gambles that have not paid off. They are stuck between reality and their own myopia.

This is uncharted territory. But it is not unpredictable.

What are the likely results of no viable tax plan? Spending cuts. Or rather, further spending cuts. Either the Legislature—or the Governor if they fail to do their duty—will have to cut spending further. Kansans will have to make do with less. Block grant education funding promises will be broken (already $30 million is being removed), resulting in less opportunity for Kansas children. Hospitals will close for lack of funding, trained staff, or support, leaving rural and poor Kansans less healthy. Courts will furlough staff, leaving Kansans less safe and without recourse. Roads will go unfixed, bridges will tremble.

This should be unacceptable.

The extremists in the Kansas Legislature must wake up and do right by ALL Kansans, not just the ones lining their election pockets. Don't tax regular Kansans more. Restore the revenue that was lost in the tax cuts of 2012.

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