Strong tax bill still necessary

Lawmakers right to reject governor’s plan

By The Mercury

It’s apparent Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback isn’t about to sign legislation that imperils the income-tax cuts he and conservative legislators pushed through during his first term. He’s vetoed such a measure once and there’s little doubt he would do so again.

It’s also apparent that the two chambers of the Kansas Legislature have had their fill of shortterm and one-time maneuvers that help balance annual budgets but that in doing so compromise the state’s future financial stability.

Nowhere was that more clear than in the Kansas Senate on Tuesday. At the governor’s request, members debated his budget proposals. Then they rejected them one at a time, ultimately voting 37-1 to kill the measure.

And small wonder. His plan would raise less than $400 million over two years, in part by raising alcohol and tobacco taxes and increasing a number of fees. His proposal also involved reducing payments to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, diverting highway funds, selling the state’s interest in future tobacco settlement payments and delaying payments to schools. That’s as much of a nonstarter for legislators, whose tax bill raised more than $1 billion over two years, as repealing the income tax cuts is for the governor.

Compromise between the governor and Legislature is called for, but that seems unlikely. That would seem to leave legislators with one option: come up with a proposal that can withstand the governor’s veto.

Unthinkable a couple of years ago, it’s within reach now, if legislators can find among themselves the middle ground that they cannot find with Gov. Brownback. They’ve already come close — with the House tax bill last month that the Senate subsequently approved. Yes, the governor vetoed it, but the House overrode the veto and support for overriding it fell just three votes short in the Senate. Notably, more members of both chambers supported override attempts than voted for the bill initially.

The Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling on school finance and its order to increase funding for public schools complicate the budget process, certainly. Legislators already faced monumental challenges this year of digging out of a budget shortfall now put at about $280 million and a substantially larger projected shortfall next fiscal year.

But those realities only make a compromise tax bill — one that can pick up key votes in the state Senate without sacrificing a veto-proof majority in the House — all the more important.

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