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SPOTLIGHT
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Tax reform

Published on -5/3/2012, 8:48 AM

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With merely eight more scheduled days of the current legislative session and most of the significant work unaccomplished, Kansas lawmakers have their backs against the wall. Time is simply running out to carefully consider mandated items such as redistricting, school finance and the annual budget -- let alone Gov. Sam Brownback's ambitious agenda known as the Roadmap for Kansas.

When important legislation is rushed, unintended consequences happen. So do mistakes.

We're concerned about both when it comes to tax reform. Guided by the dual beliefs that income tax rates are too high and state government is too large, the governor and a majority of legislators have been trying to fashion a plan to fix both. While we already were aware the tax reform portion would lower taxes for everybody making more than $25,000 -- and tax hikes for those on the lower end of the spectrum, we were not sure how eliminating even a portion of this critical revenue stream would affect state finances. We were promised a revenue-neutral reform.

Projections from the Legislative Research Department gave us the answer this week. By mid-2018, Kansas will have a budget shortfall of $712 million. That is up from a $161 million shortfall predicted by the same department just two days earlier. Officials there are standing by the $712 million figure, even if others are not.

"I hope we get solid numbers going forward," said lead Senate tax negotiator Les Donovan, R-Wichita.

Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said: "We're just waiting for (the numbers) to settle out."

Still, the governor and many GOP lawmakers say the tax reform is a good idea. They're standing by the belief that lower taxes will stimulate economic growth, which should make any shortfalls disappear.

We believe when 2018 rolls around, the shortfalls will have disappeared -- at least from the state's ledger. By that time, state officials will have pushed at least that amount of funding responsibility down to the local level. Alternatively, that amount of services might simply have been eliminated.

Either way, the poor and middle classes will carry the entire burden of removing $2.7 billion from income tax receipts. Businesses and the wealthiest Kansans will enjoy the tax cuts coming out of Topeka.

It's a regressive plan, certainly not revenue-neutral, and devastating to the state in a relatively short period of time. And it's being rushed through the Statehouse in the waning hours of the session in hopes nobody questions the effects.

We are questioning it. The state long has had economic stability by balancing income, sales and property taxes. You can't simply cut off one leg of the so-called three-legged stool and not expect it to crash. Ordinary Kansans deserve better leadership than that.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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