Yael T. Abouhalkah

Colleges, Johnson County held hostage by Brownback

Updated: 2013-05-06T17:02:10Z

Gov. Sam Brownback is trying to fool some Kansans — including Johnson County civic leaders — into thinking he really cares about higher education.

It’s a political game that the governor is winning, as he puts Johnson Countians like Fred Logan, vice chair of the Kansas Board of Regents, in an embarrassing position.

Brownback has received plenty of positive attention in recent weeks by appearing at Kansas colleges and universities to say he wants to defend their future funding. How? He wants to make sure the Kansas Legislature doesn’t allow the current state sales tax to drop — as required by a 2010 law — from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent.

If the sales tax remains high, Brownback says, that will create $250 million a year for the state, and some of that money can be used to protect higher education.

“The Board of Regents is grateful for the governor’s efforts,” read a Sunday letter to The Star by Logan and two other regents.

What’s not to like?

How about this: This is the same governor who last year was roaming the state and the halls of the Capitol arguing for massive income tax cuts, basically to help shelter more income for high-salaried Kansans.

The result of these cuts will be less money coming in for the state of Kansas in the future. Naturally, these income tax reductions will be hurting one of the prime beneficiaries of state funds — colleges and universities.

Brownback didn’t care enough about higher education last year to try to protect it from funding reductions in the future.

Now the governor essentially wants to keep a sales tax imposed on Kansans to help make up for all the money he and the Legislature took away with their income tax cuts.

That means the state would continue a regressive sales tax in a bid to continue funding higher education at a more reasonable level.

Brownback has some allies for keeping the tax in the GOP-controlled Kansas Senate, but Republican House members appear ready to let the sales tax drop.

That could lead to a cut of tens of millions of dollars for the colleges and universities. Don’t expect that threat to carry much water with the House members: They were the leaders last year in slashing income taxes.

The governor eventually might win this debate, as he’s won many others in his first term. But it’s frustrating that the leaders of colleges and universities have to bend over backward to praise Brownback after he’s been a leader in cutting tax revenues in the past.

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