Gov. Sam Brownback and his conservative legislative allies would argue that the best thing for the state’s poor will be an economy rich in jobs. But why must low-income Kansans pay so much of the freight to reach that goal?
The latest toll: Tuesday’s 25-15 Senate vote to slash the value of the state earned-income tax credit that helps more than 200,000 low-income working families, which followed Brownback’s attempt last year to eliminate the state EITC altogether to help pay for his income-tax cuts.
The new legislation cuts the value of the state EITC from 17 to 9 percent of the federal credit and shifts $42.2 million to a property-tax rebate program for some homeowners. Proponents say the change would end up helping more people.
But as Sister Therese Bangert of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth has argued: “The elderly who are being forced to leave their homes from high property-tax rates should be a separate concern for legislators. The two populations should not have to be in competition for the state’s resources.”
And no less than conservative hero President Reagan promoted a major EITC expansion at the federal level as part of “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job-creation measure to come out of Congress.”
The real point of the bill likely is the $4.5 million the state could see over the next five years, during a period when revenues will wane along Brownback’s “glide path to zero” state income tax.
The casualties of the 2012 tax cuts already include property-tax refunds for renters, a food sales-tax rebate and a child-care tax credit – tax breaks that had benefited lower-income Kansans.
And now, House negotiators are debating whether to agree with Brownback and the Senate to continue the current 6.3 percent statewide sales-tax rate after June 30. Extension of the higher rate of the sales tax would disproportionately burden the poor, while wealthy Kansans enjoy most of the benefit from the income-tax cuts. That said, letting the rate fall to 5.7 percent on July 1 as scheduled could necessitate deep budget cuts, which could hurt social services, schools and other programs that affect lower-income Kansans.
Meanwhile, Kansas stands out among states for taxing food sales at all. And lower-income Kansans will further lose if Brownback follows the lead of some legislators and refuses to expand Medicaid.
Brownback has been known to stop and give money to homeless individuals. “We’ve got a governor that is compassionate for the low-income people,” Kansas Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan recently said.
Kansans shouldn’t have to be told as much. They should see that compassion in the official actions of both the governor and his fellow conservatives at the Statehouse.