“Compromise” is a dirty word when it comes to budgeting, as Kansans learned last weekend at the close of the 2013 legislative session.
By DANEDRI HERBERT
Special to The Star
How do you compromise when one side wants to increase spending and the other side doesn’t? You spend less than originally proposed, but more than nothing. Compromise means increased spending — period. It’s the Washington, D.C., way, and now, thanks to the Kansas Legislature, it’s the Topeka way, too.
Kansas legislators compromised and crafted a budget that raised taxes and increased overall revenues while cutting important departments like corrections. It’s the worst of all worlds.
I hoped for a better outcome during a budget impasse that dragged the session into the early hours of June.
At first, members of the Kansas House stood strong in the face of incredible pressure to raise the state’s sales tax rate. They ultimately caved.
For those of us who can’t be in Topeka every day, it’s difficult to grasp the Republican-on-Republican battle that occurred in the Capitol.
Here’s the quick and dirty version:
The Kansas Senate and governor supported a plan that kept a state sales tax rate of 6.3 percent. According to state statute, that rate was to sunset to 5.7 percent this year. The sunset was a promise legislators in 2010 made to Kansans. It’s a promise many members of the Legislature were unwilling to keep as they made another promise to lower income rates in the future.
“The fact that we are even having this debate about whether or not to sunset is proof that future legislators are not bound to previous legislators’ decisions,” Rep. Brett Hildabrand, who represents parts of Shawnee, Lenexa and Lake Quivira, said before the budget decision. “It’s an empty promise.”
Hildabrand, to his credit, voted against the double tax increase proposal to elevate the sales tax rate to 6.15 percent and slice the standard state income tax deduction. It’s a double tax increase to ordinary Kansans.
In small, private negotiations, legislators debated plans that would lower food sales taxes while maintaining the 6.3 rate for other purchases. Another plan allowed the sales tax to drop to 6 percent while gutting some income tax exemptions.
Kansas House members initially greeted those plans with derision when brought into the sunlight of the House floor. One plan, approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, only received five votes in the Kansas House.
Perhaps some of the budget discussions remained shrouded in darkness to spare some politicians embarrassment. That vote was ugly.
Amid the budget and tax turmoil are the glaring headlights of two runaway spending trains — higher education and primary education.
Some House budget plans called for cuts of up to 4 percent to state universities. In return, University of Kansas officials held the state hostage saying the cuts would result in the closing of a medical school in Salina and the firing of 38 teachers in the Kansas City area. Why cut the women’s studies department when you can gut the medical school?
The threats worked.
Meanwhile, public schools are demanding more money via the court system. If the courts tell legislators to pay up, the Legislature will be forced to find revenue somewhere. (While we’re on the topic, the courts do not have power of the purse strings in our system and should never be allowed to make these decisions. Someone should make a law. Legislators?)
Gov. Sam Brownback, who first proposed maintaining the sales tax rate of 6.3 percent, told the Topeka Capital-Journal on May 30 that it was time for legislators to compromise.
“In the legislative process, nobody gets everything they want,” Brownback said. “It just doesn’t happen. At some point in time, people have to decide, ‘I can give a little.’”
Actually, governor, no, they should not have given a little. Those on the side of no tax increase gave, and now we all lose.
Compromise is the cause of our ongoing federal train wreck. The country is $16 trillion in debt, or more than $52,000 per man, woman and child in the U.S., and growing because of continued congressional “compromise” that pushes spending ever higher.
It’s as if Brownback were determined to give the Democrats ammunition. Watch for advertisements contending that Brownback is bringing Washington ways to Kansas.
They’re coming, and the sales tax and state spending increases may prove the Democrats right.
Freelance columnist Danedri Herbert writes in this space once a month.