Kansas lawmakers fulfilled their constitutional requirement of approving the semblance of a balanced budget before wrapping up this year’s session.
In the process, however, they abandoned their responsibility to serve constituents, gave away the power of the purse to the executive branch, and refused to stand up against a governor who appears hell-bent on crashing the state economy.
In the wee hours of Monday morning, legislators plugged a nearly $300 million deficit present in this and next year’s budgets by agreeing to take another $185 million from the state highway fund, delay an almost $100 million payment to the state employees retirement fund, reduce university funding another $17 million and giving Gov. Sam Brownback sole authority to make $82 million in expense cuts from whomever he chooses — except K-12 public education. And since the $840 million certificate of indebtedness issued last July has yet to be addressed, another IOU in excess of $1 billion will be issued later this summer.
To use a worn-out but wholly appropriate phrase: They kicked the can down the road. Again.
The great state of Kansas is in full economic meltdown because of the income tax cuts enacted in 2012-13. Hundreds of millions of dollars annually that used to fund basics such as schools, universities, mental health facilities, pensions, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, roads, early childhood development, prisons, economic development groups, the arts and others disappeared overnight. The governor, and lawmakers who supported the supply-side fantasy of trickledown economics working for the first time in history, believed the cuts would bolster the economy.
It did not.
A very small percentage of the 330,000 entities that suddenly didn’t have income tax liabilities took the lion’s share of that money. It was used to inflate profits instead of creating jobs.
For the 380,000 working Kansans who saw their income tax rates go down, only the middle and upper classes had a net gain. The dollars went into savings accounts instead of purchasing more goods and services. As for lower-income residents, the loss of various tax credits left them in worse financial shape.
Even last year’s largest sales tax increase in state history didn’t right the ship.
Revenue projections have been so far off in the past year and a half as to be useless. They’ve been revised downward $580 million this fiscal year alone and Kansas still has trouble meeting the monthly figures.
In short, nobody in the governor’s office or in either Statehouse chamber was able to calculate the effect of the various tax policy changes. Any economist or financial analyst not paid by the state could see this wasn’t a sustainable endeavor. So could most every editorialist across the state. And the credit ratings agencies, which have downgraded Kansas three times since Brownback took office and are poised to do it again. Warnings have been given for years.
But legislators refused to listen. They have continued to borrow from the future, postpone payments that will cost more when due, transfer dollars explicitly intended for other uses, and issue bonds based on the same faulty projections. Paying today’s expenses with tomorrow’s income is a precursor to bankruptcy.
Still, there were 63 representatives and 22 senators who voted for the latest bogus budget package. Their yes votes can be explained as having no backbone to tell the governor his plan isn’t working, having no idea about the damage they’re causing, or believing the state simply shouldn’t be serving the public at the minimal levels it does. All three rationalizations are inexcusable and warrant removal from office during this year’s election cycle.
Lest there be any confusion, voting yes from our readership area were Reps. Sue Boldra, R-Hays; Ken Rahjes, R-Agra; and Troy Waymaster, R-Bunker Hill; and Sens. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John; and Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell. Whether in a primary election or this fall’s general vote, these lawmakers have to go.
Legislators worth retaining are Reps. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland; Don Hineman, R-Dighton; and Sen. Elaine Bowers, R-Concordia. Rep. John Ewy, R-Jetmore, did not vote.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry