The Kansas Legislature is in a purgatory of its own creation.
Four weeks into the “wrap-up” session — costing taxpayers $43,000 a day — the Senate began debating a plan Wednesday to close a $400 million budget gap. But any illusions of progress were quickly dispelled by a desultory show of stunts and accusations, and a resounding 30-1 defeat for the lone proposal.
A conservative GOP senator, Dennis Pyle of Hiawatha, set a trash can on his desk and invited colleagues to have a sniff. That, he said, was his opinion of the multifaceted bill, which seeks to raise revenues by removing a tax exemption for business owners and increasing the overall sales tax rate and taxes on cigarettes and gasoline.
Pyle instead wants to close a $400 million budget gap with more cuts to schools and government functions.
At the other extreme, Democrats made it clear they’ll settle for nothing except rolling back the 2012 income tax cuts that created the budget problems.
Conservative Republicans sparred with moderate Republicans about how and why the 2012 tax bill turned out to be such a debacle.
Others said it wasn’t a debacle at all.
“We wanted to devise a fairer, flatter tax system that would grow our economy,” Senate President Susan Wagle said. “And people like what we’re doing.”
Some people, perhaps. Certainly, the lobbyists for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and like-minded groups are pleased.
But what is fair about a tax system that exempts the owners of certain types of businesses from paying any state income taxes, while most workers pay income taxes and higher sales taxes?
And there is no evidence the income tax cuts are growing the economy. The latest national jobs report shows Kansas trailing 44 other states and the District of Columbia in the rate of nonfarm job creation in the first four months of 2015.
If income tax cuts are a magic bullet, lawmakers would not still be desperately reaching for a budget-balancing package, while the administration warns of impending furloughs of state workers. The state would not have robbed the highway fund and revised the school finance formula to spend less on education.
“We eventually have to solve the problem for the people of Kansas,” said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a moderate Republican from the Wichita area. “And then we need to go home.”
So true. But that will require Brownback, Wagle and others to propose realistic solutions to Kansas’ budget woes.