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SPOTLIGHT
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Budget concerns

Published on -6/4/2013, 9:36 AM

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It took 10 days of overtime and almost half-a-million dollars extra, but the Kansas Legislature was able to pass a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Barely. The budget received the minimum number of votes needed to pass each chamber: 63 in the House and 21 in the Senate.

Yet pass it did, along with more changes to Kansas' tax code. Legislators were able to wrap up their business in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

There is no doubt there are any number of ways to look at what happened in the Statehouse. Given our concern for the state's future, we choose to look at the bottom-line numbers. They aren't pretty, particularly if you're a member of the middle or lower classes.

The state sales tax, which had been temporarily boosted during the recession and scheduled to expire at the end of this month, has been raised. Starting July 1 (or somewhere close to that as the state is required to give retailers a 30-day notice of such changes) instead of paying 5.7 percent state sales tax we will hand over 6.15 percent. During the next five years, that 0.45 percent will generate $1.12 billion for the state general fund.

For the budget to work, however, the state needed more than the billion-dollar-plus tax hike. It also reduced the standard deduction Kansans can claim to generate another $311 million, then partially repealed itemized deductions such as mortgage interest and property taxes to grab another $664 million.

Gov. Sam Brownback and enough followers to pass laws need that money for the redistribution program known as the Roadmap for Kansas. Taxpayers will send that $2.09 billion to Topeka to pay for the new income tax decreases passed by the Legislature. Those amount to just less than $1.2 billion for the next five years.

Most of the balance will be used to help pay for the massive income tax cuts passed last year, which eliminated state income tax for approximately 190,000 businesses and cut them significantly for high-income Kansans. Unfortunately, those cuts were so big lawmakers had to start hacking at state expenditures in 2014.

Regents universities received an across-the-board 1.5-percent cut. The K-State Extension Service was chopped 10 percent. Transportation had $300 million removed. The Department of Corrections was reduced so much Secretary Ray Roberts said: "The end result is that we will be spending far more than we save with the potential for increased victimization of Kansans due to an increased rate of untreated, unsupervised offenders in our communities."

K-12 public education spending was left unchanged. Of course, appeals still are being heard on the district court's ruling the Legislature is underfunding schools by more than $440 million annually.

Private health insurance companies will take over long-term, in-home services for the developmentally disabled. And the Department of Revenue figures show the state dropping below its legally required 7.5 percent ending balance as early as 2015.

But we do get cuts in our income taxes.

The governor boasts those cuts will be worth $4.6 billion during the next five years.

"We're starting to turn our state's economy around," Brownback said. "It will be not only the best in the country to raise a family but also the best to grow a business, and that's what we're after."

We do not doubt Brownback is sincere. He truly believes cutting 40 percent of the state's revenue will result in an economic miracle that will more than make up the difference. He has nothing but unproven theories, a cadre of rubberstamp legislators to move his case forward, and the implied consent of voters who put all these people in office.

The governor fully anticipates a couple of down years for the state before businesses and residents from other states move en masse into the Sunflower State. If it works out, Brownback has higher aspirations. In a Wall Street Journal interview earlier this year, he said: "My focus is to create a red-state model that allows the Republican ticket to say, 'See, we've got a different way, and it works.' "

We don't believe it will. We want to -- desperately. Kansas wasn't broken, and this "fix" will lead to a massive collision. Brownback and the barest majority of legislators just threw the Kansas train into high gear -- and there are no brakes.

"Now let's watch and see what happens," is how the governor summed up his plan in the Journal story.

Brownback can afford to watch the experiment unfold. The rest of us will have to live with the results.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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