Last week was a bad one to be Sam Brownback.
The Kansas governor endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio on Feb. 15, and then Brownback accompanied the Florida senator on a rallying tour across the Sunflower State. In an embarrassing turn of events, Brownback’s endorsement helped Rubio earn the support of less than 17 percent of GOP caucus-goers.
Even more embarrassingly for all Kansans, including the governor, Sunflower State Democrats gave avowed Democrat Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders a victory during Democratic caucus events.
Brownback can’t take full blame for the embarrassing display of the Kansas Democrats, but he gets a hearty dose for the busted Kansas budget. Officials learned last week that Kansas revenues failed to meet projections, again. In February, the state collected $53 million less than necessary. The state is $79 million in the hole on the year.
As February tax receipts were released, a budget, adopted by the Kansas Legislature, was sitting on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature. That budget left $6 million in reserves, assuming receipts met projections.
Brownback signed the budget bill Friday. The budget was busted before the governor signed it.
Now I hate to kick a Republican when he’s down, but our governor has it coming. He signed an already busted budget while vetoing an item in it that would have disallowed the use of STAR bonds for projects in Wyandotte County. STAR bonds divert sales tax dollars to pay off bonds for a project. Essentially, the bonds use sales tax to pay off the debts of wealthy, private developers.
The Legends in Kansas City, Kan., was built using STAR bonds, which are set to be paid off at the end of this year. Annually, the Legends project, including Nebraska Furniture Mart and dozens of other retailers, is generating about $42 million in sales tax revenue. To date, neither the state general fund nor Wyandotte County has had access to a single dime of that sales tax money. That $42 million would fill half of Kansas’ budget hole. Instead, those tax dollars have been diverted to project developers.
When legislators learned of plans to use STAR bonds to fund moving the American Royal from Kansas City to Kansas City, Kan., they dropped a line into the budget that would temporarily ban Wyandotte County from using STAR bonds.
In a baffling turn of events, Brownback used his pen to signal that giving away tax dollars to private developers is a priority. Working with members of his own party? Not so much.
The provision to ban Wyandotte County from using STAR bonds received overwhelming support in the Kansas Senate. For the record, 32 of 40 members of the Senate are Republicans.
The greatest irony in this entire mess is that Brownback’s overarching budget theme has been gliding the state income tax to zero. The goal was to eventually fund the state government using sales taxes instead of income taxes. Brownback and allies in the Kansas Legislature passed a sales tax increase coupled with an income tax decrease in 2012 for that express plan.
Brownback’s plan to glide to zero income taxes hit a snag when receipts failed to meet projections, repeatedly. However, as far as I know, he’s never wavered in his stated aim to move Kansas toward a consumption-based tax policy.
I don’t understand how Brownback thinks that will ever work if he plans to give away all of the state’s tax revenues to developers via STAR bonds.
Brownback had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week, but a whole lot of it was his own doing. I hate to kick a Republican when he’s down, but when it appears his goal is to make Kansans subsidize private development, he leaves this libertarian-leaning conservative little choice. I don’t think Kansans should be asked to subsidize a horse arena, and government should never be in the practice of picking winners and losers in the marketplace.
Brownback vetoed the STAR bond budget provision late on a Friday afternoon, probably hoping no one would notice.
Kansans should be enraged, and Gov. Brownback should be embarrassed.
Danedri Herbert writes monthly. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @danedri