Anyone who has ever bought a lottery ticket has given some thought to the many delightful ways those mega millions could stimulate the economy. Some combo of duty, charity, splurge and OK, savings, so as not to wind up like those winners who quickly lose it all.
Now that Kansas tax collections for last month have exceeded estimates by a tidy $144 million, lawmakers will get to decide what to do with that windfall, which came from the absolutely necessary tax increase and brought in a total of $318 million more than expected in this fiscal year that just ended.
“With tax receipts coming in above expectations every month during the last year, there’s optimism that this trend will continue,” said Kansas Revenue Secretary Sam Williams. Or, translated out of tax speak: Woohoo!
So what to do with these extra dollars?
Let’s start with what not to do: “Those dollars belong in the pockets of the people of Kansas,” said Kris Kobach, the secretary of state and Republican gubernatorial contender. “As governor, I will move immediately to reduce taxes.”
Remember how well that worked under Gov. Sam Brownback? Unfortunately, so do we.
And remember that Kansas Supreme Court ruling, a whole week ago now, that said the state is still underfunding its public schools?
The justices gave Kansas one more year to increase funding, on top of the $500 million more already approved for the next five years.
The ruling did not say how many additional dollars the state will have to come up with, but an attorney for the plaintiffs in the school funding case has put the amount at around $100 million a year for four years.
Kansans need better schools and a Medicaid expansion a lot more than another tax break.
An estimated 80,000 Kansans make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for insurance subsidies under Obamacare. Expanding Medicaid would improve access to health care in rural areas, where hospitals and clinics are struggling to stay in business.
Another pressing need, routinely acknowledged but never fully addressed, is more funding for both emergency and long-term treatment of mental illness.
Maybe, with this new revenue, we could even move away from the state’s high and regressive sales tax on food.
None of these are splurges, but necessities; they aren’t the lake house you’d buy if you bought the winning ticket, but the bills you’d pay. They’re what Kansas rightly owes its children, its seniors and its sick.