Someone needs to write a book, “Kansas for Dummies.”
What is occurring in the state is so confusing, very few understand what’s going on.
What everyone should know is the answer to this simple question: When Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature slashed income and business taxes at a magnitude unprecedented in state history, what exactly were they looking to accomplish, respectively? The answers are not the same across the board, and the differences are critical to understanding the various buttons being pushed right now.
The governor believed that, as he slashed rates, income and job growth would soar. So, therefore, he would not have to think about slashing expenses.
Meanwhile, many conservative legislators couldn’t care less about that premise. They have their agenda. Slash taxes, and they assumed it might raise less revenue, and if less revenue were raised, they will have to cut government spending to balance the budget. Starve the beast, at last!
Needless to say, Brownback’s wish did not materialize. In fact, things went way south. The deficit that has been created because of plummeting revenues, is nothing short of a calamity.
Brownback has dealt with this first by lots of gimmicks, but those were not enough. He has decided that Kansas has, at least in part, a revenue problem, and his fix is to raise taxes on tobacco and liquor, as well as to close some tax loopholes. That will raise revenue but not nearly enough.
Back in the Legislature, Speaker of the House Ray Merrick, a Johnson County Republican, reflects many views when he says he does not agree that we have a revenue problem. He has said the state has a spending problem. He wants to slash spending.
This is where things get very complicated, indeed.
You see, half the state’s budget is K-12 education.
Brownback said during his campaign that he would not cut spending on public education. Now, he says, the spending on K-12 education is “unsustainable.” He says schools cannot remain “untouched” in budget cuts.
Personally, I don’t believe Brownback thought during the campaign that schools would have to be cut. Until the billion dollar-plus deficits were dropped on him, he thought he could have his cake and eat it, too. He was convinced the revenue would materialize.
No matter, we are where we are, which is not good.
Many conservative legislators, like Merrick, don’t care about the impending deficit. They know, by law, the budget has to be balanced. To them, this is an opportunity, not a misfortune. Finally, they can shrink government — including school spending — and get what they have wanted all along.
In fact, they may not even agree to pass the modest tax increases Brownback proposed, even though they are allies of the same party. These would just get in the way of more spending cuts. Meanwhile, lurking over the governor and Legislature are the courts.
A recent preliminary finding by a three-judge panel declared funding of Kansas schools inadequate and unconstitutional. Those findings will go to the Kansas Supreme Court, but despite the bravado of some legislators, no one wants a constitutional crisis.
Perhaps there is a way to cut school spending and skirt the courts, as well as confuse Kansans. Brownback knows the people of Kansas would rise up if the per-pupil costs were cut any more than they already have been. Plus, the courts would go berserk.
So, he has come up with a clever way to do an end run, and, thus, muddle the issue. He would overhaul or even eliminate the complicated school finance formula that determines how much each school district receives.
Even we dummies know what this inevitably will mean. In the course of either rewriting or ejecting the formula, the bottom line will result in a considerable haircut — no, make that a scalping — to school spending.
You can be assured, whether anyone writes a simple version in book form, that bad things are coming, particularly to schools.
But they will be shrouded in all kinds of complexity and confusion…anything to avoid the plain, simple, ugly truth.
To reach Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.