Steve Rose

Issue of sales tax extension creates some odd alliances

Updated: 2013-04-10T03:22:07Z

By STEVE ROSE

Special to The Star

We have here the strangest bedfellows, maybe ever.

Over one important issue — a sales tax — conservative Republicans are uncomfortably allied with moderate Republicans, as well as their mortal enemies, the Democrats, against Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.

In the meantime the Kansas Chamber of Commerce finds itself at odds with its close ally Brownback and strangely in unison with the moderate Overland Park Chamber of Commerce. Those two organizations agree about nothing.

What’s going on here?

It’s all about a “temporary” sales tax passed three years ago under former Gov. Mark Parkinson to get us through a recession. Most of it is due to expire this July. Brownback wants it to keep going. But this bizarre band of rebels says no.

Brownback, who led the way to radical income tax cuts last year, is in a jam. Before the income tax cuts can (if they ever will) create thousands of new jobs, the upcoming state budget is several hundred million dollars short.

The fix, according to Brownback, is to raise that amount of money through six-tenths of the increased one-cent sales tax. (The other four-tenths is permanent and earmarked for highways.)

The Kansas Senate has obliged. The House is balking. Unless there is lots of mind-changing, it looks like a majority of the House would rather see draconian budget cuts than keep the sales tax.

That could mean cuts to K-12 schools, higher education and social programs. Normally, moderate Republicans and Democrats would choose higher taxes than painful cuts. That’s usually a slam-dunk.

Not this time. There are some deep wounds that have not healed.

For example, two moderate Republican legislators from Northeast Johnson County, Sen. Kay Wolf and Rep. Barbara Bollier both have said they would oppose extending the sales tax, even if it means cuts to their favorite programs.

In their last primary elections, they got hammered by pro-Brownback forces for their “yes” votes on the sales tax back in 2010. They were called tax-and-spenders and nastier things than that. Only because they represent very moderate districts were they able to survive. Now that the tables have turned, and Brownback is embracing the tax, they apparently would rather see the governor stew in his own juices.

The Democrats in the House, who have strongly opposed the income tax cuts as irresponsible, also would like to see Brownback suffer. Some believe if the state’s citizens feel the pain, the pressure might force the income tax cuts to be rescinded.

Conservatives have no bone to pick with Brownback. The anti-tax zealots are simply unwilling to break a promise to end the tax after three years.

The Overland Park Chamber of Commerce, against the wishes of some of its conservative members, endorsed the sales tax in 2010. They, too, got hammered for siding with a tax increase. Now, to square things up, they say the tax should end.

Their position states: “Having supported the passage of a temporary rational state revenue enhancement in 2010 to help maintain our state and region’s quality of life for its citizens during an economic crisis, the Chamber supports sunset … on June 30, 2013.”

The virulently anti-tax Kansas Chamber of Commerce never, ever endorses a tax increase, let alone an extension of a temporary tax. But that chamber has been the top supporter of Brownback. To see them split with him now is a sight to behold.

Now, it is appropriate to feel sympathy for those who would like to see the governor pay the price for his irresponsible income tax cuts. And sympathies abound for those who were viciously attacked for supporting the sales tax hike in the first place.

But let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot while aiming at Brownback.

The deed is done, and the income tax cuts are a reality we have to deal with. Those tax cuts aren’t going to be rescinded anytime soon.

The question is, do we really want to see deep cuts to the very things that give us our quality of life?

The answer should be no. We should swallow hard and extend the sales tax.

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