We all likely have that one friend who can never seem to get his finances in order. When he’s not under-earning, he’s overspending. He’s usually guilty of both.
For 49 states, Kansas is quickly becoming that friend.
The spotlight looms overhead as national media outlets and talk show pundits continue to report on our budgetary woes. We are not shining.
Our governor’s supply-side experiment is old news by now. We can expect that when it comes time to play his hand, Gov. Sam Brownback will double down on trickle-down every time in the name of fostering growth.
He says he needs more time to let it play out. That slumps in agriculture and energy production were not his fault.
Maybe he’s right. But we’re out of time.
Our revenue forecasts are all doom and gloom, and the shortfalls are daunting: $310 million this year. More than $500 million next year. Nearly $1.1 billion by June of 2019.
In January, the cameras were rolling as the governor announced his proposed solution: More of the same.
Taxes on liquor and cigarettes. Scaled-back pension contributions. The state’s investment fund and future interest in the tobacco class-action settlements could both be raided for extra revenue as well, among other sources. Some were cast as loans, of course.
“Just one more loan, man. I’m about to get a new job,” your friend says, broke yet again.
But the governor is not alone. Our legislators knew about the state’s dilemma long before this year’s session began. We did not go broke overnight, and the governor had plenty of supporters among them.
There was talk after the election that there were enough votes to roll back the Brownback anti-tax measures with a veto-proof majority. As we just learned, this was not the case – though lawmakers did come close.
Now, there seems to be no plan at all. If there is a chainsaw that will cut through some costs, no one seems willing to pull it from the shed.
The prevailing plan seems to be to wear the governor down with the same bill, over and over, and hope that he will give in. This is unlikely.
There’s nothing wrong with conservative fiscal policy. There’s nothing particularly wrong with experimenting. But there’s something very wrong with inaction and defiance when the future of our state – and of our children – is on the line.
In the meantime, the country continues to hear of our plight on the evening news. They must be muttering to each other, “Can’t someone figure it out? What’s going on in Kansas these days anyway?”
Our governor and our Legislature need to compromise now, before talk of shutting down schools and courthouses starts all over again.
We look bad enough as it is.
Blake A. Shuart is a Wichita attorney.