Cheered on by Gov. Sam Brownback, the 2013 Kansas Senate voted last week to make liars of the 2010 Legislature and then-Gov. Mark Parkinson – by supporting extension of a sales-tax increase scheduled to sunset June 30.
Other proposals would further treat the $8.2 billion, 10-year transportation plan like money free for the taking, though Brownback once said the state should seek alternatives to massive sweeps of highway funding. Also wobbly are the state’s commitments to funding for K-12 public schools, higher education, social services, gambling-addiction help, a college-savings matching plan for low-income students, and more.
The Statehouse priority this year and for the foreseeable future is paying for last year’s rash tax-cut plan. The governor and his allies are seizing any revenue and budget cuts they can find to keep the state moving further down the path toward eliminating the state’s income tax while maintaining a 7.5 percent ending balance – come what may for Kansas.
The Brownback-blessed, Senate-passed tax plan would enable the state to collect an extra $316 million in fiscal 2014, thanks to the continuation of the higher sales-tax rate and a 24 percent cut to income-tax deductions. It’s unlikely that the plan will win approval in the House, where many lawmakers oppose turning a temporary sales-tax hike into a permanent one and also favor cutting the budget into balance. A rival proposal offered last week in the House by Rep. Richard Carlson, R-St. Marys, would let the sales-tax rate drop but make further income-tax cuts dependent on revenue growth of more than 2 percent a year – too slowly for many Republicans.
But even if the Senate bill did pass the House, $50 million or more still would need to be cut from the 2014 budget, according to Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson.
Of course, before it’s all over, even legislators who champion K-12 schools and look out for social services funding may favor the higher sales tax rather than see those budget areas further slashed and local governments forced to raise property taxes.
Some of them used the five-hour Senate debate last week to highlight the harm done to poor Kansans by last year’s tax plan, which eliminated a food sales-tax rebate that benefited the working poor, a child-care tax credit, the homestead refund for renters, and credits targeting the disabled. As it is, only one (Mississippi) of the 14 states that tax food sales does so at a higher rate than Kansas.
“Nobody is going to walk away with everything they want,” Bruce said. “But hopefully it’s what the state needs right now.”
Actually, what the state needs right now are leaders capable of recognizing that last year’s tax-cut bill was a mistake – one now being compounded by making low-income Kansans bear a disproportionate share of the cost of fixing it.