Too much of a good thing

Brownback should reject tax cut bill

By Walt Braun

Gov. Sam Brownback can blame the Kansas Senate for tax-cut legislation that even he acknowledges is excessive, but if he truly objects to it, as he should, he ought to do the responsible thing and veto it.

Kansans who won’t need anything from the state in the coming years will probably be delighted at the legislation. Not only will most individuals and businesses enjoy lower income taxes, but anyone who spends money — that’s just about everyone — also will benefit from a lower state sales tax.

In a prepared statement after the Legislature adjourned, Gov. Brownback described the tax cuts as “pro-growth tax reform” … that “will leave $1.5 billion in Kansans’ pockets during the next two years. “ It will “create tens of thousands of jobs and make our state the best place in American to start and grow a small business.”

He’s right on the first count. And there will be more jobs. But whether the number approaches the “tens of thousands,” and whether the legislation makes Kansas “the best place in America to start and grow a small business” are far from certain.

What is more certain is that the tax cuts will force further cutbacks in state programs — programs that because of the economic downturn that began in 2008 already have been sharply curtailed. Steep cuts in programs and services could resume as soon as next year; the Kansas Department of Revenue said the tax cuts could contribute to a revenue shortfall next year of more than $200 million. This will take a toll on funding for public schools as well as on programs for the poor, the elderly and other vulnerable Kansans. Worse, within five years, according to legislative research, the shortfall could approach $2.5 billion; that’s a prevent able situation that lawmakers of every political stripe should find intolerable.

To oversimplify the way this occurred, the Senate, was outmaneuvered. Senators first rejected and then as a political gesture, approved the large tax cut legislation, believing it would lead to negotiations with the House of Representatives. The House, however, adopted the Senate proposal, and the legislation was on its way to the governor.

Efforts to scale back the tax cuts and at least phase them in more gradually — efforts Gov. Brownback supported — failed in the session’s last days.

Despite knowing the harm it could cause, the governor has said he would sign the bill. If he does, he’s more likely to set the stage for another economic crisis than the growth he’s promised to deliver.

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