In a day marked by moments of high drama and low comedy, the Kansas Legislature failed Wednesday to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a two-year, $1 billion tax increase designed to close a massive budget hole in the state.
The state House mustered enough votes to make the bill law without the governor’s signature. A few hours later, though, the state Senate buckled, falling three votes short of the 27 needed to put the economic nightmare of the last four years in the state’s rearview mirror.
The Legislature must keep trying.
While they’re working on it, area voters should feel free to make their views known to recalcitrant senators who want to extend the state’s fiscal disaster. Some senators said they opposed the override because the tax package is retroactive — an absurd fig leaf. It’s only February.
The enormous damage from the Brownback tax cuts, by the way, is retroactive to 2013. And ongoing.
Brownback seemed oblivious to that fact Tuesday and Wednesday, when he theatrically vetoed the tax increase measure while misleading Kansans about the reasons why.
It’s appalling for the governor to claim his veto protects “working families” when he signed one of the most regressive tax increases in America just two years ago. And his own plan includes higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol.
So where does the state go from here? Kansas still faces a $320 million shortfall over the next four months and a massive $582 million hole the following fiscal year. The budget must be balanced, more or less, and there is work to do.
Conservatives have said those deficits can be offset by cutting state spending. If there’s a serious plan, offer it now.
Other legislators will be sorely tempted to walk away and let the governor figure it out. When schools close and prison gates swing open, Brownback can explain why.
That would be a mistake.
Here in the real world, the Legislature must maintain its focus. That means reasonable tax hikes — including revocation of the state income tax exemption for 330,000 business owners. Adding back a third bracket to the income tax code also remains a good idea. Raising taxes to their 2012 levels for incomes over $100,000 would ensure fairness in the tax code.
Raising income taxes for middle-income Kansans is a tougher lift. Here, lawmakers could forgo tax increases in favor of one-time budget cuts.
We’ve also suggested a short-term gas tax increase. Other states are trying that approach.
The sad truth is lawmakers can’t give up until the governor gives in. The vetoed bill was a good first try, but more work remains.