Good for Gov. Sam Brownback for recognizing that the state may lose its lawsuit over school funding and need more tax revenue. But where is this reflected in his budget? And hasn’t he already pledged increased sales-tax revenue for other purposes, including further reducing the state’s income taxes?
In arguing that the state should make its temporary sales-tax increase permanent, Brownback said last week that the state may need this revenue in case the Kansas Supreme Court rules against it on school funding. He noted that the state already has lost in the lower court, which ordered it to increase spending by at least $440 million. Brownback said lawmakers should consider the impact a final ruling against the state could have on the state’s budget.
“You could get yourself where you’d be in a crisis position, and I don’t think that’s prudent,” Brownback said.
He’s absolutely correct. But he’s also late in acknowledging this.
This editorial board and many citizens across the state raised this same concern before Brownback signed massive income-tax cuts last year. How could the state afford to lose that much tax revenue, especially when it likely would lose the school-funding lawsuit?
Keeping the statewide sales-tax rate at 6.3 percent, as Brownback proposes, rather than letting it drop to 5.7 percent on July 1, would provide about $262 million in additional state revenue a year. That’s about 60 percent of the school funding increase that the lower court ordered.
But Brownback also has been saying that the additional sales-tax revenue is needed to prevent funding cuts to higher education. And he wants the extra revenue to help further phase down state income taxes.
The higher sales tax isn’t like the biblical account of Jesus and the loaves and fishes – it can’t feed a multitude of state budget needs.
Still, Brownback and the Legislature had been acting as if it won’t matter how the court rules. They cut base state school aid to a level lower than it was before the state lost the last funding lawsuit. Then when the economy improved, they chose to cut income taxes rather than restore this funding.
So it was good to hear Brownback admit that the state could lose the lawsuit and need to significantly increase school funding. That should have been obvious, but it’s progress.