Another month, another shortfall to report at the Kansas Department of Revenue. If it sounds like a broken record — it is. As stated in the Topeka Capital-Journal after January’s report this week: “With the exception of November, revenues haven’t beaten estimates since February 2015. Since that time, overall revenue forecasts have been lowered twice.”
Even though most anybody examining state finances can see the current budget crisis directly resulting from the massive tax cuts of 2012 and ’13, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is undeterred.
During his State of the State address last month, the governor said: “Kansas is strong,” without mentioning the bleak revenue picture. Last week: “This is the best tax policy in America for small business.”
That is tough to argue. The only way to better paying zero income taxes is if Topeka opted to reimburse corporations just for being here. The same could be said for all the middle- and higher-income bracket individuals whose net finances improved with the tax cuts. Who knows, that could be the next step in the trickle-down process.
But is it the best tax policy to operate state government? Once again, we would answer with a resounding “no.” The only way officials can remove 40 percent of revenue needed to pay for the services it provides is to cut those services by 40 percent.
At this point, you the reader could interject that the state has not cut services by 40 percent — so perhaps the governor is correct. The question is fair. It also is easy to refute.
Pay close attention to the “fixes” being implemented. Hundreds of millions of dollars intended for highways, bridges and children’s programs are diverted to the state’s general fund. A billion dollars is borrowed and placed into the stock market in hopes the state will come out ahead enough to make mandatory pension payments. The state budget surplus is depleted while a certificate of indebtedness for $840 million is issued to help protect a downgraded credit rating. Reserves built up by prudent school districts are forced to be depleted as the state freezes education funding despite the reality of costs for everything except fuel rising. Borrowed money being used to pay for operational costs of state government today won’t even begin to be paid back for at least 10 years as interest-only amortizations were obtained.
Lawmakers remain, for the most part, silent. They know even if they passed legislation rescinding the irresponsible tax cuts, the governor would veto it. There does not appear to be the political will to stand up to Brownback, let alone attempt a veto override.
And the citizenry? Are we really so concerned about even more restrictions on abortion services, further redundant reaffirmations of the Second Amendment, expanding the concept of public tax dollars being spent at private schools, and taking principled stands against services Planned Parenthood don’t even provide in Kansas that we are willing to allow Brownback and Co. to wreck the state economy? Do we have such little interest in functions the state should provide that we’ll allow this administration to purposefully dismantle everything except what it deems “core” services?
Voters are the final check and balance for the faulty policies in place today. If Kansas citizens do not have the stomach for recall proceedings, the next best alternative is to rid the Legislature of members who refuse to deny Brownback’s agenda.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry