The tax and budget debates of the past week have stirred worries and further demonstrated how the Kansas Legislature’s makeup and fiscal priorities have changed. Kansans who care about the budget areas being slighted amid the tax-cutting zeal need to make themselves heard loudly and soon.
The chambers’ negotiators must reconcile the plans now that the House has declined to extend the higher sales-tax rate after July 1 (as the governor and Senate want to do) or to divert $382 million in sales-tax revenue from the transportation plan over the next two years (as the House Taxation Committee wanted).
The House and Senate would cut funding by $30 million and $15 million, respectively, for the higher-education system of state universities, community colleges and technical schools – which officials say will further drive up tuition rates and endanger programs. Only the Senate would increase K-12 per-pupil funding, and then only by $14 per pupil in fiscal 2014, doing little to ease the severe budget problems districts face statewide.
Area priorities at risk include the National Center for Aviation Training and scheduled highway improvements.
Despite the tenacious efforts on the floor of Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, the Senate-passed budget lacks funding to help Sedgwick County keep the Judge James Riddel Boys Ranch open, to help community mental health centers recover from the deep cuts they’ve sustained, or to support the arts at the level Kansans fought for two years ago. As it is, the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission would receive just $200,000 – a $500,000 cut from the current year and far from the kind of support needed to reclaim the $1.2 million in annual regional and federal matching grants that enriched Kansas’ cultural life.
The week also saw another failed effort by Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, to give $45 million to cities and counties for lowering property taxes – which are the taxes Kansans fear and loathe most.
“At last we’re cutting budgets and trying to save the taxpayers some money,” said House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell.
Yes, but with what Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, called “a giant leap of faith” – and with far too little regard for the impact that decimating the state’s tax base will have on schools, college students and those who rely on state-funded social services.
Let it be said again that the state’s revenue crisis is entirely of its own making because of Gov. Sam Brownback’s historic bill last year eliminating income taxes for 191,000 businesses and farms and cutting income-tax rates for individuals. Now, when lawmakers should be cautiously trying to repair the damage and mitigate more, they seem eager to cut spending to clear Brownback’s desired “glide path to zero” income tax.
If Kansans have a problem with that, it’s now time to say so.