Tax-plan sausage

The old adage that laws are like sausages is certainly true with the tax-cut plans in the Legislature: It’s not appetizing to watch them being made.

Still, Kansans should pay attention – and voice their opinions – because what the Legislature decides could have significant impact on our state.

Gov. Sam Brownback started the sausage-making when he released a tax-reform plan in January. It was aimed at cutting income taxes and was supposed to be revenue neutral. But the plan actually cost about $90 million and would raise taxes on those making less than $25,000. It also would make permanent the temporary statewide sales tax increase and eliminate many tax credits and deductions, including for mortgage interest.

GOP House leaders quickly abandoned the governor’s plan and said they would draft their own proposal that wouldn’t punish the poor. But it turned out that their plan still would raise taxes on the poor and would raid about $350 million from the state’s highway plan.

The full House heavily amended that plan, making sure the highway money stayed put. Seemingly on the spur of the moment, the House also voted to eliminate the statewide sales tax on groceries.

In the end, the House bill could reduce state revenues nearly $2.2 billion over five years.

The Senate seemed more methodical – that is, until last week.

When a tax bill similar to Brownback’s came to the floor, senators stripped out many key provisions. The bill failed to pass, but after a lot of arm twisting by Brownback and his staff, the Senate reconsidered and approved the gutted bill.

The Senate plan would reduce tax revenue by $3.7 billion over five years. The senators also approved a bill to provide $180 million over the next four years to cities and counties for property-tax relief.

Now the tax plans go to a conference committee, which will try to reconcile them. It’s unclear whether that will result in a plan that a majority of lawmakers would support or that the state could afford.

Meanwhile, a study released last week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities warned that getting rid of state income taxes could lead to higher property or sales taxes and cuts to state services. It noted that states without an income tax, such as Texas, have higher sales or property taxes, or both, than states that levy an income tax.

Many Kansans don’t understand why state leaders are even talking about cutting taxes when school districts are closing buildings and the waiting lists for social services continue to grow. In fact, 58 percent of Kansans surveyed last fall by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University favored increasing income taxes on top earners – not lowering them, as the tax plans do. And 63 percent of those surveyed supported tax increases on large corporations.

But what does the public know about making sausage?

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee