Gov. Sam Brownback says he hasn’t made up his mind whether to try extend part of the statewide sales tax scheduled to expire July 1, 2013, to help balance the state budget.
The part in question involves the 1 percent increase — from 5.3 percent to the present 6.3 percent — that the Legislature approved in 2010.
The governor is considering the option because he’s not certain how strapped for funds the state might be as a result of massive income tax cuts he pushed through the Legislature earlier this year. He’s indicated that if the state needs the revenue, he could seek to extend the tax.
In reality, he can do pretty much what he wants. The chief resistance to extending the sales tax increase would come from conservative Republicans, many of whom opposed the increase in 2010. Some have said it’s important to honor the promise that Gov. Mark Parkinson and a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans made when they enacted the increase.
How important keeping that promise will be to the overwhelmingly conservative Legislature, when the alternatives are repealing some of the 2012 income-tax cuts or cutting state programs, is an intriguing question.
The situation was much different in 2010.
Lawmakers had been forced to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in state spending to cope with the economic downturn that resulted in drastic funding shortfalls. The one-time, three-year sales tax increase was intended to keep education and other key programs from being hurt further and to tide the state over with vital revenue until the economy rebounded. This has been accomplished.
Next July, the present 6.3 percent sales tax is scheduled to drop to 5.7 percent; the 0.4 percent being retained will go toward transportation needs.
Extending the other 0.6 percent might be defensible if the state’s financial situation were truly desperate. But that isn’t the case. What extending the 2010 sales tax increase would do is compensate for revenue lost to the recent income tax cuts.
A vastly better option would be for the governor and Legislature to acknowledge that they overreached with their income-tax cuts and to pare them back enough to ensure that the state has adequate revenue to meet its needs without extending the sales tax.
The promise legislators made in 2010 is a good reason to let the sales tax increase expire.
An even better reason is the tactic’s basic inequity. Using sales taxes, which disproportionately burden low-income Kansans, to subsidize income taxes, which disproportionately benefit the wealthy, is fundamentally wrong.
That ought to render the option moot.