Gov. Sam Brownback’s defense in his State of the State address of the tax policies that have defined his tenure is perhaps understandable, but Kansans ought to know by now that those policies haven’t succeeded.
Nor should Kansans be impressed by the governor’s contention that to boost economic growth nationwide, President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress are considering tax policies similar to those Kansas has approved. Yes, federal tax reform is overdue, but lawmakers in Washington would be wise to take a good look at the financial crisis that afflicts Kansas before rushing to make changes.
Kansans also shouldn’t be fooled by the governor’s assertion, ‘As a state, we have pioneered new ground on small business policy,” later adding, “The policy has worked.”
The policy has not worked. In fact, as the present budget shortfall of about $340 million and a projected additional budget shortfall of about $580 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1 demonstrate, the governor’s policy has backfired.
Although slowdowns in the agriculture and energy sectors have exacerbated the problems, they’re not the primary cause. The primary cause, as the governor refuses to acknowledge, is the set of income-tax cuts in 2012 that, among other things, exempted the owners of more than 300,000 limited liability corporations, farms and other businesses.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a vocal critic of the governor, didn’t exaggerate much Tuesday when he said, “To put it simply, Gov. Brownback’s economic policies have caused our state to go broke…” Lawmakers in a Legislature that’s still controlled by Republicans but is less conservative than it has been in recent years calculate that repealing those tax cuts could generate $260 million a year. That alone wouldn’t balance the budget, but it would be immensely helpful.
The governor’s call for “modest, targeted revenue measures to fund essential services” can be part of the effort to balance the budget. So can “efficiencies” he has proposed. The latter, however, are often oversold as solutions that have little real impact. Perhaps merging some state agencies can produce real savings, but such mergers could be unwise if the upshot is to further curtail services for citizens who’ve seen important services repeatedly cut back in recent years.
The governor has been in politics long enough to know the value of compromise. He could demonstrate genuine leadership by signaling his willingness to give ground on his income-tax policies.