In March, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle told our editorial board that lawmakers would either agree on a long-term structural fix for the state’s persistent budget problems by the end of the month — yes, by the end of that month — or else she and her colleagues would be “willing to forgo pay.”
Senator, time does get away from us sometimes, but it’s June. No structural fix is in sight. And you and your colleagues are still being paid.
When you met with us, you spoke of the canyon-sized hole Gov. Sam Brownback had dug for Kansas with the aggressive 2012 tax cuts he called a “real-live experiment.”
He hardly pushed those through single-handedly.
But now we know how that experiment turned out: His “march to zero” income taxes was supposed to create tens of thousands of jobs, but it didn’t. It was not, of course, supposed to create massive budget deficits, but it did.
In March, Senator Wagle, you said that you and your colleagues had no choice but to address the situation by raising taxes, borrowing money and cutting services that had already been trimmed and then trimmed some more.
So why do you keep voting against a tax hike?
Maybe that has nothing to do with the fact that you’re thinking of running for Congress. But if that’s not the issue, what is?
And if it is that, don’t you trust voters will prefer a lawmaker who raised taxes to solve a widely acknowledged problem to one who knew what should happen but didn’t dare to follow through?
Late Tuesday, the Senate did pass a bill that would have reinstated a third income tax bracket, raised individual tax rates and nixed the ill-advised LLC exemption for farmers and small businesses that was supposed to stimulate the economy but instead turned out to be what Wagle called a “tax avoidance mechanism.”
The bill would have brought in about $600 million a year in new taxes. But Wagle voted no, and the House wasted no time in voting it down, 37-85.
Again, according to the Senate president, this whole situation is nothing new: “We knew when (Brownback) signed the bill that we needed to fix that tax plan,” Wagle told us.
That was five years ago.
The next year, in 2013, the bill became law. But “the floor didn’t really start falling out from underneath us until 2014,” she said.
Most Kansans are keenly aware of the situation. Also in March, 73 percent of those polled said those dramatic tax cuts had hurt rather than helped the state’s economy, according to a survey by the Kansas Center for Public Growth, which advocates restoring taxes to their pre-Brownback, 2012 levels.
Wagle, who has contended lawmakers met their self-imposed March deadline by passing budget legislation that didn’t actually structurally fix the budget, has assured us that lawmakers understand what needs to be done: With “revenue projections way off, we’re way under water. There’s a strong, strong desire in both the House and Senate to pass a structural fix and set us back on a path of predictability.’’
When might that happen, Senator? At what point will you yourself support the kind of “balanced” plan to sustainability that you described to us 10 weeks ago? And at what point does that suspension of wages kick in?