I am disheartened by the plans of Gov. Sam Brownback and his allies in the Legislature to radically change our state. I also confess to resentment at being forced into an experiment that seems only to harm me and people like me. Here is why I feel that way.
Eliminating the food sales tax and homestead rebates would increase the tax burden on senior citizens, retirees and many low- to mid-income families. Reducing and eliminating income tax is meaningless for these groups; they now pay little or no income tax. Losing the home mortgage deduction would further increase their tax burden.
It is unlikely that workers, especially public sector workers, will see wage increases to help them bear this extra tax burden. The governor’s agenda undermines the rights of workers to act collectively on wages, salaries and benefits. Working families will continue to lose while businesses and the wealthy are given break after break.
The refusal of the governor and Legislature to respect the court’s decision regarding school funding will hurt not only children and young people but all of us. A poorly educated work force will not attract the kind of business and industry we want for our state. Yet the governor maintains that his plan will attract business and industry. His attempt to change the procedures to select judges in retaliation for the court’s decision is a petty gesture that would concentrates power in the hands of the governor and create an imbalance among the three branches of government.
Eliminating income taxes will inevitably increase local property tax because more and more funding for services will be pushed to the local level. Sales tax policy that provides no exemption for food and medicine increases the tax impact on working families, including single-parent families, as well as senior citizens, retirees and other low-income persons. That’s because they must spend a greater percentage of their income on these necessities. Kansas is one of very few states to impose this extremely regressive system.
I am told that these measures and others to fund business and the wealthy are necessary to make Kansas attractive to business — competitive — and to create jobs. Yet the kinds of clean, high-tech industries we say we would like have other expectations. They want good schools, cultural and educational opportunities, desirable housing for all classes of workers and a well-maintained infrastructure, including communications. Handing out tax breaks, loans and grants to businesses is only part of the package.
I am also concerned about the governor’s plans to maintain an adequate system of health care, mental health care and the social safety net. Many working families do not make enough money to maintain an adequate standard of living; hence they rely on welfare, community organizations, church charities, etc. They lack both mental and physical health care. The idea that reducing welfare will force more persons to get jobs is unrealistic. Many already have jobs, but their jobs don’t pay enough to cover living expenses and child care. Because of mental and physical disabilities, some people can work only minimally, if at all. Am I the only one with an impaired person in my family? These are human beings, and we have an ethical and moral obligation not to throw them aside as we pursue business and industry and court the wealthy.
I’d like to think my fears are misplaced. I’d like to be convinced that the governor and legislators have the good of all Kansans at heart and are committed to some vision of the common good. Is there anyone out there who can convince me this is so?
Mary Ann Fleming lives at 215 S. Eighth St.