Brownback should allow tax increase

It would be a mistake for Brownback to veto the Legislature’s tax bill.
It would be a mistake for Brownback to veto the Legislature’s tax bill.

The Kansas House and Senate acted responsibly last week in addressing the state’s ongoing budget shortfall.

Now Gov. Sam Brownback should do the same.

Lawmakers approved a bill that reverses some of the tax cuts that created most of the budget problems. The bill eliminates the tax exemption on pass-through business income. It also increases some personal income tax rates, including restoring a third tax bracket.

The tax increases won’t be enough to cover the entire budget shortfall – which now totals about $900 million over the next 17 months. But it helps restore the state’s revenue base and makes the remaining budget cuts more reasonable.

As Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, noted in supporting the bill, “We’ve got to get out of the negative situation on our budget.”

The tax increases help do that.

Lawmakers who voted against the bill complained that the state should cut spending, not raise taxes. But those lawmakers have had years to propose and pass budget cuts.

Instead, they have raided the state highway fund and delayed payments to the state pension plan. The gimmicks and delays made the budget problems worse.

Kansas voters spoke loud and clear last election that they wanted a real fix. They want schools adequately funded, and polls show that a large majority think it is unfair that about 330,000 farmers and business owners have a tax exemption, especially when the state can’t pay its bills.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, seemed to accept this call for change. She wrote in a commentary last week that Brownback’s budget plan was “neither structurally sound nor fiscally conservative.” She also vowed that the Senate would not “kick this can down the road any longer.”

That’s what the Senate sought to do Friday in approving the tax increases – but without Wagle’s vote.

The bill now faces a big hurdle: Brownback.

He opposes the bill and has threatened to veto it. That would be a mistake.

Brownback’s budget plan does not have support in the Legislature. In fact, it couldn’t even clear a Senate committee.

A separate Senate proposal to cut funding to K-12 schools and higher education lacked enough support to even merit a vote on the Senate floor.

There doesn’t appear to be an alternative plan that could pass both chambers.

If Brownback wants to help Kansas climb out of its budget hole, he should respect the will of the Legislature and allow the bill to become law, with or without his signature.