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Tax proposals need work

By Walt Braun

One of these days Republicans in the Kansas Legislature will stop coming up with income tax-cut proposals that help just about everyone except the state’s poorest residents.

The worst example in this regard was from Gov. Sam Brownback. His plan, which has some merit, would have lowered taxes on taxpayers in every tax bracket except those who earn $25,000 or less. Worse, not only would it not have helped those citizens — tens of thousands of Kansans — the governor’s proposal would have raised their taxes.

Fortunately, that provision met with enough outrage to sideline it. Unfortunately, Republican lawmakers haven’t entirely learned from that episode. The House Taxation Committee this week approved an amended plan that needs further amending. It, too, would increase tax rates on the poorest Kansans, though not as much as the governor’s proposal would have. Republican leaders told the Associated Press that the tax increase on the poor was an unforeseen consequence of the amendment. House Republicans are expected to deal with that responsibly, which would at the least mean not penalizing the poor for being poor.

Another troubling consequence of the GOP income tax proposal involves the projection that it could reduce state revenue enough to contribute to budget problems in the future. Revenue estimates indicate that the plan would cost Kansas more than $850 million in the next five years.

That’s attractive in the sense that Kansas residents and Kansas businesses would have substantially more money to spend as they deem appropriate over that time frame. But as popular as cutting taxes is, lawmakers’ responsibilities include ensuring that the state has enough revenue to support important programs and services for its citizens. Those include transportation, education, public safety and health and meeting the needs of the elderly and infirm.

It isn’t difficult to imagine lawmakers in a few years coping with another revenue crisis —though it would be one largely of legislators’ own making — by deciding that the solution is to further slash state spending. The only other option, which seems unlikely in the extreme, would be raising taxes or fees to boost revenue.

A better option would be a more modest tax-cut package now, one that doesn’t jeopardize the long-term flow of state revenue and create unnecessary financial crises in the future.

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