Watching a Train Wreck in Kansas



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During the 2013 legislative session, our state policy team has been observing the tenor of the Kansas tax cut debate with some concern. Too many media accounts have focused primarily on the sales tax and whether the temporary hike to 6.3 percent would be extended. (Ultimately the legislature decided to increase the sales tax rate to 6.15 percent.)

But attention is beginning to turn, albeit too late, to some incredibly important provisions of the legislation that was just signed into law by Governor Brownback. As highlighted in this Kansas City Star editorial and this Associated Press analysis, the tax debate was about a lot more than the sales tax.

The Kansas City Star explains the consequences in a sobering editorial: “The two-year spending plan, which Gov. Sam Brownback is expected to approve, places income tax cuts ahead of schools, universities and public safety. Giving tax breaks to wealthy Kansans matters more to state leaders than investing in the state and its citizens.”

The Associated Press reports: “Important but relatively little-noticed provisions in the tax plan approved by Kansas legislators this year embody conservative Republicans' vision for long-term constraints on government spending.” Indeed, the bill that passed the legislature includes arbitrary spending controls and could mandate the eventual repeal of the state’s personal income tax.

Of course all of this is what ITEP argued in a paper (one of many) last April: “Lawmakers and the public should be aware of the devastating impact either the House or the Senate bill would have, regardless of the compromise reached about the current sales tax rate, on the state’s ability to balance its budget and on tax fairness.”

For some combination of political and ideological reasons, lawmakers in Kansas, for two years running, have been falling all over themselves to pass tax cuts of disastrous proportions, despite red flags from experts, editorial boards and their colleagues in other states.  When good policy is not even on the priority list, it seems no amount of evidence can stop elected officials from pursuing their short-term political agendas.

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