State taxes — There simply is no way around addressing the state’s income tax structure and, more specifically, the broad-based income tax cuts implemented by legislators in 2012 and 2013 at the urging of Gov. Sam Brownback. Those tax cuts have crippled state revenue for five consecutive years and dug the billion-dollar hole the state faces. Legislators have dabbled with addressing tax reform. They passed a bill in February that the governor vetoed, and last week the House toyed with a plan to repeal the tax cuts altogether before abandoning it when the Senate called House legislators’ bluff. Instead, lawmakers shifted focus toward dabbling with increasing taxes on tobacco and alcohol and perhaps an increased fee on utilities. In fact, the House was reportedly working on a new tax plan that lawmakers have already dubbed the “kitchen sink” plan because it includes every kind of tax or fee imaginable. This is no way to run a state. Surely, lawmakers understand that the only way to fix the state’s fiscal woes is to repeal or significantly modify the Brownback tax cuts. The question is, do they have the political courage to do so?
Higher education — As parents, we have a legitimate worry about our offspring graduating and becoming self-supporting. But making a living and having a life are both important. And all of society suffers if a large number of people do not have a job. But we continue to hear that students only need to pursue their major, and not the full range of academic courses. In February 1967, newly elected California Gov. Ronald Reagan examined his state’s educational budget and proclaimed “that there are certain intellectual luxuries that perhaps we could do without.” When a large portion of our society lacks a basic understanding of history, art, music, science, government, math, etc., we are abdicating the human heritage that we have built up to make life better. Public higher education has become expensive due to underfunding, over-enrollment and the attitude that education is a private, not a public good. Thus parents and students may only value courses in their major. But sustaining the culture around us, by everyone having that minimal understanding across all of the major disciplines is what keeps us talking together, and treating fellow citizens with dignity and tolerance.