Dave Helling

Republicans in Kansas’ do-nothing Legislature are playing games with tax cuts

Republicans who control the Kansas Legislature are on a path to do nothing and go home.

The latest evidence? On Monday, the House Taxation Committee approved a big tax cut on a voice vote. Like the already-passed Senate bill, the House proposal provides a massive tax reduction for some Kansas corporations and some individual taxpayers.

But the committee has added a sweetener: A 1 percent cut in the sales tax on food starting in October.

This has a certain appeal. The sales tax on food in Kansas, now 6.5 percent, is ridiculously high. Kansas should be ashamed, and lawmakers should reduce it.

But Republicans in Topeka aren’t really interested in cutting the food sales tax. We know that because big corporations still get three times as much tax relief in the House bill as food-buying Kansans.

No. The food sales tax cut was put in the House bill simply to make it harder for Gov. Laura Kelly to veto the corporate tax reductions.

That might have made some sense as a political strategy if Republicans had approved a bigger sales tax cut. A substantial reduction in the food sales tax — say, 3 or 4 percent — would put Kelly in a tougher spot. It would certainly get Democratic support.

If the GOP also dropped the corporate tax cuts, you might even have, gasp, a bipartisan bill.

As it is, though, Kelly will almost certainly veto the House tax bill if it passes. She would be right to do so. And since the governor appears to have enough support to sustain a veto, it’s possible lawmakers will walk away with no tax reform by the end of the 2019 session.

Kelly may count that as a victory since she has adamantly opposed tax cuts this year. But it will frustrate Republicans, who will undoubtedly respond with obstruction and delay.

The slim chance of approving Medicaid expansion in the state will drop to zero. More ominously, the possibility of a compromise on school spending may also go up in smoke.

This would be a first-degree tragedy.

You’d think Republicans would want to avoid that. You would be wrong. Instead, it’s clear they want to use the court as a political issue in 2020, when voters may be offered a chance to remove judges from school funding cases.

The only way to make the courts the enemy is to keep the court case going.

So, no tax reform. No Medicaid expansion. No school funding bill.

Many Kansans will see that outcome as a disaster. For others, it will be familiar: Kansas Republicans have been pretty bad at governing in recent years, as the Sam Brownback era showed, but they’re pretty good at doing nothing at all.

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Dave Helling has covered politics in Kansas and Missouri for four decades. He has worked in television news, and is a regular contributor to local broadcast programs. Helling writes editorials for the Star, and a weekly column. He was awarded the 2018 ASNE Burl Osborne award for editorial leadership.