The Kansas Association of School Boards turned heads last week when it supported Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax-revenue proposals. But the KASB is grappling with a difficult political reality: If the state doesn’t raise more tax revenue, it will have to make large budget cuts, which likely will include education.
Which is worse?
“We are here as proponents, for the very simple reason that we think the governor’s revenue components are necessary to fund the governor’s budget and the impact that will have on K-12 education,” KASB lobbyist Mark Tallman told lawmakers.
Tallman has noted that the “statutory” budget that Brownback was required by law to submit – which doesn’t include additional revenue and maintains the required 7.5 percent ending balance – includes an 8.3 percent across-the-board cut for all agencies. That translates to a nearly $250 million cut to education, or a reduction in base state aid per pupil of about $365.
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To try to avoid such steep cuts, Brownback proposed making the temporary sales-tax increase permanent and eliminating some tax deductions. He also proposed cutting income taxes even more in coming years – which KASB doesn’t support, because it is projected to result in more budget shortfalls.
While KASB is backing Brownback’s revenue plan, key conservative groups aren’t. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce is against extending the sales tax and instead favors spending down the state’s ending-balance reserves. Other anti-tax groups want deep budget cuts.
Conservative lawmakers are divided on Brownback’s revenue proposals, as many of them ran for office opposing the sales-tax increase. They also are getting pressure from constituents and groups such as the Kansas Association of Realtors to keep the mortgage interest and real estate tax deductions.
Ironically, Brownback might have found some allies among Democratic and moderate Republican lawmakers, who also want to avoid more cuts to schools and social services. But he targeted them for defeat in last year’s elections, making them less inclined to help bail him out.
Or as Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, put it: “The governor made the sandwich. He can eat it.”
And the sensible revenue options that they might support, such as reversing or delaying some of last year’s tax cuts, are opposed by Brownback.
Brownback has only himself to blame for the budget problems and this political divide. He chose to sign an irresponsible tax-cut bill, knowing it would create severe shortfalls.
Because Brownback did that, the reality is that the state now needs more revenue or more spending cuts to fill the hole.
KASB concluded that higher taxes are better than harmful cuts. What will lawmakers decide?
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee