A recent Associated Press analysis observed that the Brownback administration has “developed talking points to deflect anticipated criticism” of the massive tax cuts it pushed through the Kansas Legislature last spring.
What has Gov. Sam Brownback and his staff concerned is the possibility that the state will undergo major budget problems in the coming year and in subsequent years as well. That’s a valid concern. After all, it was the legislative research staff, not Democrats, who calculated that the tax cuts Gov. Sam Brownback has boasted will resurrect the Kansas economy will result in a funding shortfall of almost $2.5 billion in the next six years.
That’s the downside of income tax cuts to individuals and that exempt 191,000 businesses from income taxes. The $4.5 billion in projected tax relief is impressive indeed. But it would be more impressive if the state — and its citizens — could afford it.
Cuts in government spending are already in the works. An early sign that the tax cuts were excessive came last summer, when the governor ordered state agencies to draft plans to trim their spending by up to 10 percent. Many of these agencies’ budgets have still not recovered from deep cuts during the Great Recession, when an economic downturn over which the state had little control choked off revenue to the state.
Another indication comes from the Governmental Ethics Commission, where funding cuts could result in the loss of two auditors whose jobs help ensure that others in government are operating responsibly.
More recently came the announced shutdown of the Kansas Main Street program, a successful and popular program that has helped preserve downtowns in communities across the state, including Manhattan.
The administration’s talking points start with blaming anticipated state funding woes on uncertainty in the national economy. The national economic outlook isn’t measurably different now than it was in the spring when Gov. Brownback and his supporters in the Legislature approved these massive tax cuts that their own experts warned the state could not afford.
The cuts in state programs and services that Kansans endured a few years ago were unavoidable. The cuts to come, however, will stem in large part from Gov. Brown-back’s “experiment.” He’s bet that the state’s businesses, which will reap the overwhelming benefits from the tax relief, will prosper and invest their new wealth in expansions and in new employees. Though that would be wonderful, we remain skeptical.
In the interim, Kansans who do need government services will likely find the lines longer and the services fewer.