In years past, when the Kansas House and Senate were at odds over budget or tax matters, our tendency was to consider the House extreme and support the Senate position. But that was before the last election, when a conservative coalition led by Gov. Sam Brownback, the Koch brothers and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce succeeded in ousting Senate moderates and replacing them with allies of the governor.
Both houses of the Legislature are conservative now, on social and financial matters, but in the present showdown over income-tax cuts, it is the Senate position that we take greater issue with. It generally supports Gov. Sam Brownback’s aggressive campaign to phase out income taxes in Kansas.
Actually, that would be a fine idea if the state didn’t need the money. But it does need the money to pay its bills and provide adequate support for public and higher education as well as programs and activities for the state’s most vulnerable citizens.
The income-tax bill the Senate passed would require that the state sales tax — now at 6.3 percent but scheduled to drop to 5.7 percent on July 1 — be kept at 6.3 percent. State Sen. Les Donovan, a Wichita Republican who is the governor’s champion on the issue, said Wednesday that it is “absolutely critical” that the state sales tax remain at its present rate. “That is the bottom line, you might say the lynchpin, of whether this works or not.”
The House, whose bill would lower the state sales tax as scheduled, should stand its ground on that issue. The sales tax was raised three years ago to deal with a funding crisis over which the state had no control. It became law only because moderate Republicans and Democrats recognized how desperate the state was for the money it would generate. As part of their compromise, the coalition and then-Gov. Mark Parkinson promised it would expire after three years.
The present funding shortfall is altogether different. It’s been manufactured in large part by last year’s income tax cuts — cuts that the governor and many legislators want to add to this session. But if further income tax cuts require maintaining the sales tax at 6.3 percent, then the income tax cuts should be rejected.
The reason, as lawmakers know, is obvious. The sales tax disproportionately burdens low- and middle-income residents, whereas income tax cuts disproportionately benefit more affluent residents.
If the state must maintain the income tax at 6.3 percent to afford the income tax cuts, then the state simply can’t afford the income tax cuts.