Conservatives like most of what they heard Tuesday in Gov. Sam Brownback’s State of the State Address, one that extolled family values and the virtues of thrift and hard work. If events unfold as the governor envisions, just about everyone in the state, even his critics, could be better off.
Who doesn’t like tax cuts? The governor, confident as he addressed a Legislature dominated by political allies, promised to lower income taxes further this year, with the ultimate goal being their elimination. In contrast to last year’s tax-cut package, which did little to help the poorest Kansans, he would pare income taxes in the lowest bracket to 1.9 percent.
“While others choose to raise taxes, we will lower them so our people have more money, not the government,” the governor said, reciting conservative dogma.
One potential snag involves the statewide sales tax. It was raised by 1 cent almost three years ago and part of it is scheduled to sunset July 1. Though some conservative legislators balk at the notion, he needs the revenue that the sales tax generates to help subsidize his other tax cuts.
He offered few specifics about how Kansas will be able to pay its bills and maintain the “safety net” for vulnerable citizens with another round of tax cuts. Though he boasted that during his term thus far Kansas has turned a $500 million shortfall into a $500 million surplus, the 2012 income tax cuts have contributed to a shortfall this session of $267 million.
Gov. Brownback is counting on his tax cuts to attract more businesses to the state and create jobs that will generate revenue, boost prosperity and leave fewer Kansans dependent on the safety net. And he’s counting on that to happen sooner rather than later.
He’s also counting on greater efficiency through such proposals as merging the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Kansas Turnpike Authority and through panels charged with making other state programs, such as public education, more efficient.
He received some of his loudest applause when he addressed two judicial issues — the way appellate judges are chosen and a Shawnee County District Court judge’s ruling last week ordering the state to pump an additional $500 million or more into public schools. The governor’s call for lawmakers to support a constitutional amendment that would effectively prohibit the courts from telling legislators how to spend tax money resonated strongly with the legislative majority that has long regarded the courts as meddlesome and too liberal.
There were few surprises in the governor’s speech, and there’s little reason to doubt that he will have enough support to push his initiatives into law. Whether his proposals will have the effect he seeks is less certain.