An $800 million budget deficit. Plunging revenue. Financial forecasts proven way too optimistic.
One day Kansas government is raiding the state highway fund to fill its budget hole. The next, the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback is borrowing $1 billion to keep pensions sound.
Still another day, critics lament a massive threat to the state’s public schools while harping on not-so-impressive job-growth numbers that leave some wondering why taxes were cut in the first place.
The litany of troubling news is mind-numbing. Problems that carry price tags totaling hundreds of millions are commonplace. Is there enough dough to keep the lights on?
At times we wonder.
And yet, talk to the same lawmakers who passed those record income-tax cuts in 2012 and they’ll tell you with unwavering certitude that they did exactly the right thing. The state needed a good goosing, they’ll say. Job growth was shaky, tax revenues uninspiring. It was time to act.
“It was absolutely the right thing,” said state Sen. Jeff Melcher, an Overland Park Republican. “Jobs are growing well. Our wages are growing faster than the national average. I don’t know if we’ve ever accomplished that before.”
“Now Kansas is a low-tax state,” said state Sen. Jim Denning, another Overland Park Republican.
Of the lawmakers I talked to this week, only state Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, hesitated when asked if he would back the cuts again.
“I think about that a lot, and I don’t know,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been as quick. I’ll admit that there was more pain than I wanted.”
Schwab blames a former Senate president who, he said, refused to negotiate the tax-cut bill in good faith, and that led to a bigger cut than anybody wanted. These days he’s frustrated with Brownback for not showing more leadership to get spending down.
As lawmakers returned to the Capitol this week for a wrap-up session, you hear two things: There’ll be no tinkering with Brownback’s tax cuts. To do so would be an admission that Republicans went too far, too fast on their biggest initiative. From a purely political standpoint, it would be like President Barack Obama second-guessing his health care law.
You also hear, on deep background, that more than a few tax cut backers are leery of what this thing hath wrought. Too much deficit. Too many cuts.
But like Obamacare, it’s the law of the land, and it’s not going away.
To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.