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Eagle editorial: Flip-flop on sales tax?

  • Published Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, at 5:24 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, at 5:24 p.m.

Given how strenuously conservative lawmakers and anti-tax groups opposed the statewide sales-tax increase in 2010, it is hard to believe that the Legislature would even consider going back on its word and not allowing the tax to expire on July 1. Yet Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce already have flip-flopped; lawmakers may do so, too.

When the Legislature approved the temporary tax increase, conservative lawmakers protested that it would wreck the economic recovery. The Kansas chamber condemned the budget deal as catering “to the needs of those at the government trough,” and it targeted for defeat lawmakers who “voted to impose higher taxes on job creators and families.”

Brownback also criticized the tax increase when he campaigned for governor that year. But after he was elected, he changed his view.

Brownback opposed revoking the tax increase. Instead, he relied on the extra revenue to help cover the state’s budget problems (as was its purpose).

The anti-tax groups stopped complaining, too. A state chamber official cautioned lawmakers about revoking the tax increase and suggested that the higher sales-tax rate could be used to eliminate state corporate taxes.

That’s similar to what Brownback proposed last session, though he wanted to use sales taxes to help reduce individual income-tax rates. Lawmakers balked at that proposal, as many of them had run for office opposing the sales-tax increase.

Brownback is still interested in extending the sales tax as a way to help fill the projected $295 million budget hole next fiscal year created by the tax cuts he approved last session. Keeping the sales tax at 6.3 percent would raise at least $250 million a year in additional revenue.

The Kansas chamber also is open to making the sales tax permanent, but only if the extra money is used to further cut the state’s income taxes.

Americans for Prosperity, which is calling on lawmakers to sign a pledge not to increase taxes, is OK with extending the sales-tax increase as long as it is “included in legislation that has an overall net reduction in taxes.”

Some key lawmakers – such as Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee Chairman Les Donovan, R-Wichita – are also interested in a tax swap.

But many other conservative lawmakers are reluctant to support a tax increase that they previously condemned. They also know they would face criticism for breaking a promise to let the tax expire and for increasing the tax burden on the poor in order to pay for more tax cuts for the rich.

Still, there has been so much flip-flopping already that anything is possible.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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