Wednesday’s tax-cut duel under the dome made it official: The legislative process in Topeka is bankrupt. Soon the state could be, too.
The Senate was poised to debate the House-Senate compromise tax-reform plan – a flawed overhaul, to be sure, though one that at least attempted to pay for itself.
But without notice or debate, Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration and House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, maneuvered the House into concurring with an unaffordable Senate-passed bill that was meant to be a “vehicle” for Senate-House negotiations and never intended to reach the governor’s desk.
The governor later released a statement urging legislators to “continue their work on reforming our state’s tax policy and to consider some of the alternatives I proposed in my original pro-growth tax reform to offset the cost.” But there is every reason to think Brownback will sign the bill if it comes to that, because he’s proved he wants tax cuts at any cost.
And what a cost. While providing $233 million in income-tax relief mostly for business starting in fiscal 2013, the bill headed for his desk would leave the state $2.7 billion in the red in 2017 and undermine efforts to restore state funds cut in recent years from K-12 schools and social services.
As the House speaker passed a tax-cut bill that promises to wreck the state’s finances, he also junked the legislative process. First O’Neal blocked any debate on the specifics of a bill so significant as to end 80 years of balanced tax policy. Then he even cut off lawmakers’ explanation of their votes. “This is just political thuggery,” Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, told The Eagle editorial board.
Once the Senate debate had started across the Statehouse, Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, faced his own criticism for stifling debate. And perhaps Morris and the other moderate Republicans who control the Senate have only themselves to blame for falling for the Brownback administration’s ploy in March to get them to pass a bill too rich in tax relief to be fiscally responsible. But they were operating in good faith.
The shame is that Brownback and O’Neal weren’t Wednesday, and that Kansans and state services will pay for their actions.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman