Editorials

Gov. Laura Kelly was right to veto this tax cut. There’s another one she should support

Five key points in Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s budget

Gov. Laura Kelly’s proposed budget would leave Kansas with $686 million in the bank next year, while expanding Medicaid, increasing school funding and hiring scores of workers to help fix the state’s troubled foster care system.
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Gov. Laura Kelly’s proposed budget would leave Kansas with $686 million in the bank next year, while expanding Medicaid, increasing school funding and hiring scores of workers to help fix the state’s troubled foster care system.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Monday vetoed a massive tax cut largely aimed at corporations. It was the right thing to do.

At the same time, the veto doesn’t mean that Kelly or anyone else should now abandon efforts to make Kansas taxes more fair, particularly for the poor, as soon as possible.

Lawmakers sent the tax cut package to Kelly’s desk earlier this month. It would have reduced state revenue by roughly $209 million in the first year, including $137 million in business tax cuts. It also would have cut the sales tax on food by 1 percent.

On Monday, Kelly said the tax cuts would wreck the budget. “It would throw our state once again into a self-inflicted budget crisis, diminishing all the investments we’ve worked so hard to rebuild and restore,” she said in a statement.

“It would put our future at risk once again in order to give significant tax breaks to entities who need them the least, while continuing to leave working families behind,” the governor said.

She’s right on all counts. There is no evidence that Kansas corporations need additional tax breaks piled on top of those awarded by a fiscally irresponsible Congress and White House. And a major tax cut now would make it harder to reach consensus on a school finance bill that could lead to the end of the long-running legal dispute over education.

Based on votes in the House and the Senate, Kelly’s veto will likely be upheld. That has important implications for the remainder of the session.

It’s possible Republican leaders in the Senate will be so angry about the veto that they’ll refuse to bring a House-passed expansion of Medicaid to the floor for a vote. That would be irresponsible on its own terms. Kansans who need medical help, and rural communities, want expanded access to Medicaid.

But it’s also unfortunate because the tax bill Kelly vetoed included a food sales tax cut. Poor people in Kansas now face a double whammy: no Medicaid expansion, and higher food bills too. Kansas should be embarrassed.

Kelly said Monday she’s still committed to reducing the food sales tax, just not right away. “We cannot responsibly enact a food sales tax cut until our state’s fiscal health stabilizes,” she said.

We wish the governor seemed equally worried about the fiscal health of family budgets, and the prices the poor and working class Kansans pay at the checkout stand. There’s still time in this session to write a food sales tax cut, and Gov. Kelly should lead those discussions.

To be clear: Expanding Medicaid is more important than cutting the food sales tax, at least for now. But lawmakers should not leave Topeka without accomplishing at least one of those goals.

Kelly has blocked the Republican leadership’s attempted tax giveaway to the wealthy. It was an important step, but there is more to do.

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