Kansas House should reject large, unfair tax package

Kansas state Sens. Forrest Knox of Altoona (left) and Jeff Longbine of Emporia on Sunday discussed a tax increase plan that the chamber passed.
Kansas state Sens. Forrest Knox of Altoona (left) and Jeff Longbine of Emporia on Sunday discussed a tax increase plan that the chamber passed. The Associated Press

A bloc of Kansas Republican state senators capped an intensive six hours of maneuvering on Sunday in Topeka by narrowly rushing through a large tax increase package.

The GOP-controlled Kansas House will meet Monday to decide whether it will approve boosting the sales tax from 6.15 percent to 6.55 percent, while leaving intact most of the costly income tax cuts thousands of businesses now get.

The proper answer from lawmakers would be a resounding “No, we won’t.”

Ultra-conservative House Republicans certainly didn’t run on a platform of approving about $400 million a year in tax increases. Outnumbered Democrats also will oppose dumping a higher regressive tax on 3 million Kansans.

But will that be enough?

Gov. Sam Brownback has endorsed the Senate-approved plan. He proposed the highest sales tax considered by the Legislature so far — 6.65 percent — two weekends ago. He wants to sock low- and middle-class income residents with higher consumption taxes, while pursuing a “march to zero” on income taxes for the wealthy.

Yet all of the income tax cuts approved with Brownback’s help in 2012 have not led to either a dramatic increase in jobs or in revenue. Income tax receipts have plunged by more than $600 million a year, putting the state budget in a bind.

Unfortunately, one other factor is working in favor of the House throwing up its hands and meekly accepting the Senate’s tax increase proposal. Events over the weekend showed that tempers are frayed in the Legislature, which on Monday will meet for a record 109th day of a 90-day session.

The new Senate bill also outraged a number of city and county officials by including a provision to curtail their abilities to set property tax rates needed to finance local governments. Even the normally taciturn Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach was upset Sunday night.

He correctly noted that this proposal had been passed “at the 11th hour ... without any committee discussion, without any public input, without a full understanding of the implications of this legislation, and without direct influence on balancing the state’s budget.”

In addition, the Senate bill contains an improper incentive for using public dollars through tax credits to finance private-school scholarships — yet another bid to diminish public education in Kansas.

Summed up, the Legislature is in danger of simply rushing toward the door, content to protect parts of the business community from sharing in the pain caused by their income tax breaks.

Too many Republican lawmakers seem almost blase about passing the largest tax increase in state history. That’s certainly not what they promised on the campaign trail to deliver to Kansans.

The Senate made the wrong choice on Sunday. The House needs to make a better decision Monday. It should help focus the Legislature on remedies that could lead to a more balanced, long-term way to finance the budget — especially without an exorbitant sales tax.

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