Today is Day 90 of the 90-day legislative session in Topeka. To nobodyís surprise here, lawmakers have not completed the one task theyíre constitutionally required to accomplish: Pass a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
So in a year when supposedly unexpected revenue shortfalls have prompted Gov. Sam Brownback to implement emergency actions such as raiding KDOT funds, shortchanging KPERS, cutting funding for K-12 public education and Regents institutions, and other short-term accounting maneuvers ó Kansas taxpayers can only sit back and watch overtime get paid to legislators to finish their work.
It isnít as if the elected senators and representatives havenít been busy. Gun rights were expanded, abortion rights were restricted, religious freedom was demanded, and gay rights were ignored. But the only job legislators actually have to do was ignored while awaiting an economic miracle to take place as a result of prior income tax reductions. Month after month revenue to the state kept shrinking while proponents of the trickle-down experiment pleaded to give it more time.
There is no more time. All thatís left to figure out is how to replace the hundreds of millions of dollars the state decided it didnít need any longer. Or how to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from state expenditures.
What should happen is a frank admittance the income tax reductions didnít stimulate the economy. How could they? For individuals, once the accompanying tax credits were eliminated, the lower class ended up with less money in their pockets. The middle and upper classes, which actually did see a tax decrease, either paid off existing debt or placed it into savings. Kansas Department of Revenue numbers back this up, as projected sales tax collections fell short all year long.
For businesses that suddenly didnít have to pay income taxes, the results were even more stark. Of the $205 million businesses were able to keep, 5.3 percent of companies received 83.4 percent of the money. The other 94.7 percent of businesses split up the remaining $33 million. Somebody was relying on an extremely small number of companies to carry the load of expanding the state economy. Somebody was being extremely foolish.
At best, the Legislature will restore a small portion of the income tax cuts. We would expect tax increases to arrive in the form of a sales tax that quite easily could become the second highest in the nation ó trailing only California. Itemized deductions will be reduced or disappear. Taxes will be raised on tobacco, and perhaps liquor. Farmers and ranchers might be targeted for increases in property taxes. Sales tax on gasoline might go higher. Losing the homestead exemption for the first $20,000 of valuation on homes to help pay for public education.
All sorts of things are being considered that would push Kansas to become ever more regressive in its overall taxation scheme.
And the Kansas Senate has yet to pass a thing. The Senate Tax Committee met for an hour Thursday without voting on anything. The committee did not meet Friday, so it will be next week before we sense what the senior chamber is prepared to do.
Lawmakers need to fix this crisis quickly. We would hope they put a premium on fixing it correctly, but believe they will focus on quickly instead.
Every Kansas resident needs to pay close attention to the final result. You might not like what legislators have in store for you.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry
Editorial by Patrick Lowry