Opinion Columns & Blogs

Tax increase wasn't necessary, responsible

In a commentary, Kansas Senate President Stephen Morris, R-Hugoton, wanted to set the record straight regarding the final budget and tax increase enacted by the Legislature ("Legislature took responsible path," June 15 Opinion). He concluded that the only responsible way to move forward was with a tax increase.

I would like to offer a different viewpoint.

From 2005 to 2009, the state's all-funds budget spending rose from $10.59 billion to $13.96 billion. That is a net 31.9 percent increase in state and federal spending while inflation rose a cumulative 11.8 percent during that same period.

While the citizens of Kansas are trying to live within their means during a nasty recession, 71 House members and 21 senators voted to increase the 2011 general-fund budget by spending more than $200 million. It seems that we have a spending crisis, not a budget crisis.

What Morris and others are citing as a "modest three-year, 1-cent tax increase" is actually a 19 percent increase in the sales-tax rate — the largest sales-tax increase ever imposed on Kansas citizens. It must also be noted that 40 percent of the tax increase extends beyond this current economic downturn.

Morris' commentary declared that this sales-tax increase to 6.3 percent (plus county and city rates) allowed Kansas to be competitive with its neighbors. But Oklahoma (4.5 percent), Missouri (4.225 percent), Colorado (2.9 percent) and Nebraska (5.5 percent) all have lower sales-tax rates than Kansas. How does that possibly make us competitive?

Other options were available to help satisfy a budget shortfall. The 2009 agency records show a balance of $1.96 billion, and according to the Kansas State Department of Education and the Kansas Legislative Research Department, the combined school districts had a carryover cash balance on June 30, 2010, of $1.14 billion. Though much of that money is obligated, a portion could be reprioritized as agencies and schools deem necessary to help them get through any temporary general budget shortfall.

Additionally, Kansas has an estimated $10 billion to $12 billion in assets. Selling 1 percent of unused or underutilized property would generate $100 million to $120 million that could have been used before raising taxes.

As a further justification for an increase, Morris and the proponents of the tax hike want us to look back to the 2002 recession, when the Legislature raised taxes. He claimed that it was a catalyst for economic growth and that 35,000 jobs were created. But according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kansas lost about 27,400 private sector jobs by the next year. Alarmingly, from 2002 to 2010, government jobs have increased by about 33,000.

To believe that a tax increase was responsible and necessary, you must also believe that government is operating as effectively as possible with no waste, fraud or duplication of any program, and that all agencies are working at their maximum level of efficiency on behalf of the taxpayers.

When Topeka or Washington, D.C., takes even more money away from the private sector to grow government, it diminishes the road to economic recovery. We need to control our spending and encourage the private sector to grow by becoming a low-tax state with a stable and predictable regulatory environment.

This recent tax increase was neither necessary nor responsible, especially when more than 100,000 members of our work force are unemployed.