Editorials

Kansans will bear the brunt of tax increases backed by Gov. Sam Brownback and GOP legislators

Kansas Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican, fought back tears early Friday morning as he voted for the largest tax increase in state history.
Kansas Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican, fought back tears early Friday morning as he voted for the largest tax increase in state history. The Associated Press

The image of a grown legislator sobbing in the middle of the night would be poignant if it weren’t so symbolically wretched.

Surely Republican Rep. John Whitmer of Wichita wasn’t tearing up around 3 a.m. Friday for the Kansas single mom who’ll have to pay more in sales taxes to put food on her family’s table and shoes on her children’s feet. Or for the welder whose tire popped in a highway pothole, which went unfilled because of warped state priorities.

Perhaps he was issuing tears of joy for his lawyer and business buddies who will keep their zero income-tax lifestyle intact. Have another round on the Kansas House!

“I voted for something I am not proud of,” Whitmer conceded, “but I feel it’s what the folks need.”

It’s really hard to imagine which “folks” Whitmer was working for.

Let’s get this straight: The tax-is-theft, small-government Kansas Legislature, prodded relentlessly and shamelessly by Gov. Sam Brownback, imposed on themselves a false choice — pass a huge sales-tax increase or face across-the-board budget cuts starting Monday.

Off the table was the business tax exemption of 2012, which lines the pockets of 330,000 business owners and farmers, with little effect on real job creation, and has led to an epic revenue shortfall for the state.

Result: The Legislature on Friday approved the largest tax increase in state history, raising about $400 million extra in the next year — if the projections are correct, which they haven’t always been in Kansas.

Brownback’s sunshine fantasy has become a radioactive cautionary tale for those who thought it would be a model for the rest of the nation.

Oh, yes, the Legislature also ended day 113 of the scheduled 90-day session by presenting a bill to taxpayers approaching $1 million in overtime pay. That’s because lawmakers failed to meaningfully confront the looming budget crisis heading straight down the tracks at them from the session get-go in January.

So in a week of Topeka soap opera, late Thursday spilled into the early hours of Friday, and House Speaker Ray Merrick of Stilwell sprinkled some legislative power dust into the proceedings and eked out the slimmest of GOP victories about 4 in the morning.

Then the Senate came in later Friday to ink the deal and send their Pyrrhic victory to the governor’s desk.

A few more tears were shed during the Senate’s debate of the tax bill, by its supporters, oddly enough.

They complained it didn’t include a lower sales tax on food. And that the plan didn’t slice state expenses enough. And, yes, the anti-tax crowd even got in a few hypocritical shots at their impending move to take more money out of the wallets of Kansans. They also had the gall to call Democrats “obstructionists” for refusing to go along with the regressive tax boosts.

Where do we go from here?

The budget still could need trimming by $50 million or more, and Brownback likely would do that on his own in the coming months.

Meanwhile, retailers around Kansas will prepare their registers and computers to jack up the state sales tax from the current 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent.

The financial pain of these tax hikes will soon be felt by 3 million Kansans, but not by the selected business owners paying nada for state services.

It’s unfair. But it’s what the governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature wanted.

Responsible Kansans will want to remember that when the next election cycle rolls around.

The only good news: The circus, for now, is over.

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