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Final budget was best of bad options

  • Published Wednesday, May 12, 2010, at 12:05 a.m.

In a legislative session that offered miserable choices, majorities in both the Kansas Senate and House opted to raise state sales tax by 1 percent for three years rather than further cut spending on public schools, prisons and other essential services. That took guts, especially during an election year.

The majority of legislators ultimately understood what the GOP House leadership, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and others did not — that $1 billion in cuts over the past two years was enough, making Gov. Mark Parkinson's proposed temporary sales-tax hike the best of the bad budget options.

"What do you want to do? Cut more from schools, the disabled and the elderly? Do you want more people released early from prison?" asked state Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, during the House's marathon debate on the tax bill. "Or do you want to see the sales tax increased by a penny? Is a penny worth those cuts?... It is the responsible response to this problem."

Dillmore was correct, as were most of his fellow area Democrats and the few area Republicans — Rep. JoAnn Pottorff of Wichita and Sens. Carolyn McGinn of Sedgwick and Jean Schodorf of Wichita — who also supported the budget and tax bills.

Disappointingly, Rep. Raj Goyle, D-Wichita, voted against the commonsense solution to the budget crisis — perhaps focusing more on his race for the 4th Congressional District seat than on the needs of schoolchildren and others who depend on state services.

At various points during the session, Parkinson pointed to Sedgwick County's experience in approving a temporary 1 percent sales-tax hike to build the Intrust Bank Arena. That tax hike did its job and then went away, and without having the devastating effect on the local economy predicted by opponents.

There is every reason to view the increase in the statewide sales tax, from 5.3 to 6.3 percent, as a bridge to better times, especially with economic indicators continuing to improve. After three years, the rate is scheduled to drop to 5.7 percent, retaining 0.4 percent to fund a new transportation plan.

With the unemployment rate at 6.9 percent in the state and higher in Wichita, there is no joy in passage of any tax hike — but especially of sales tax, which disproportionately affects the poor.

And the $13.6 billion budget and $314 million tax package mostly mark time, rather than making up for some of the lost funding and ground that have afflicted constituents of state dollars since the economy cratered.

There is a measure of relief, however, for those school districts, university administrators, social service providers and other Kansans who've strenuously argued all session that more cuts would do unacceptable and lasting harm across the state.

Those legislators who helped pass the budget deserve thanks for their tough votes.

— For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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