The overtime meter is running up $43,000 a day, with furloughs of state employees looming next weekend. Clear-eyed, pragmatic leadership is sorely needed to get lawmakers to the exits for the year.
Rather than responsibly point the way out of a $400 million shortfall, the fiscal proposal Gov. Sam Brownback finally put forward Saturday would have further shifted the tax burden onto the middle class and poor via a hike of the statewide sales tax and the elimination of most personal income tax deductions. Through Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan, Brownback also has threatened to veto any legislation that would reimpose income tax on the profits of the 281,000 business owners and 53,000 farmers exempted by the governor’s 2012 tax cuts. Inexplicably, Brownback is sticking to his story that it was legislative intent to zero out the income tax liability of that many business owners – and that Kansas is seeing job creation as a result.
The failure of the Senate to embrace most of Brownback’s proposal – votes Sunday and Monday even managed to deepen the budget deficit – reflects directly on the governor’s waning credibility.
But the blame extends to those who are supposed to be leading the GOP-dominated House and Senate, all of whom increasingly favor legislating by conference committee rather than by robust and full debate of bills and amendments that have been thoroughly examined in committee hearings.
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Despite the impassioned and personal plea of Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, during Monday’s tax debate, her GOP caucus was unmoved to pass the tax increases necessary to advance toward adjournment. On Tuesday, before moving toward tossing the fiscal nightmare to a conference committee, senators wandered further off track by voting to make it harder for local governments to raise property taxes.
And there is no justification for why the House’s first opportunity to debate the budget proposal should come Wednesday, on Day 104 of what was supposed to be a 90-day session. As Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, noted, the House also blew an opportunity to have a substantive debate and influence on the tax package when it moved a bill into conference committee last week.
Voters didn’t send 125 representatives and 40 senators to Topeka in January so they’d be sitting around in June waiting for a chosen few to decide what to do.
The waste on display at the Statehouse adds insult to the injury of years of underfunding for the school districts, state hospitals and other state-funded priorities now trying to make ends meet. Worry and stress started turning to panic Tuesday, as Senate leaders rolled out proposals to cut state spending by as much as 6 percent across the board.
Does anybody in charge in Topeka have the knowledge, will and ability to govern? Kansas is waiting – and waiting – to find out.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman