Yael T. Abouhalkah

That cackling sound is Gov. Sam Brownback having last laugh on Kansans

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback begged Republican legislators on Thursday to keep in place special tax breaks for 330,000 businesses and farmers, then pass the biggest tax increase in state history on 3 million Kansans.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback begged Republican legislators on Thursday to keep in place special tax breaks for 330,000 businesses and farmers, then pass the biggest tax increase in state history on 3 million Kansans. AP

Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday scored his second greatest victory as the leader of Kansas government.

Shortly after 4 a.m., the House took the spineless way out and approved the largest tax increase in state history. Twelve hours later, the Senate followed in those ugly footsteps.

The tax increase is badly needed to fill the huge budget hole created by Brownback’s greatest “victory” — income tax cuts he pushed in 2012 for thousands of businesses.

Those cuts — as everyone knows by now — slashed state revenues by more than $600 million a year, imperiled funding for education and other state services, and caused the Kansas Legislature to continue meeting until Friday, the 113th day of a scheduled 90-day session.

At least House passage did not come easily.

Indeed, Speaker Ray Merrick of Stilwell looked particularly ineffectual as he desperately tried to shove the voting margin to the magic level of 63 votes — even though he was working with a Republican majority of nearly 100 members in the 125-member House.

Finally, after more than two hours of waiting for legislators to switch their votes, the 63rd vote came at 4:05 a.m.

Senate approval came after shorter debate on Friday afternoon, but also by the barest of majorities — 21-19.

Summed up, Brownback succeeded in making the Legislature come up with a solution for a mess he created, and for which he has never taken responsibility.

On Thursday, Brownback had bullied Republican members of the House and Senate in a caucus session. By later in the day, some GOP legislators said they were frightened that Brownback would do the unthinkable and slash spending on public institutions such as colleges in their districts.

“Now is the time you’ve got to act,” the governor told fellow Republicans. “You’ve just got to act.”

The tactics worked.

On Friday, enough Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate endorsed a bill that would raise the sales tax from 6.15 percent to 6.50 percent. The members echoed the playbook laid out for them by Brownback: Lawmakers had to pass the tax increase to help balance the budget, or the state would be financially ruined.

That argument, of course, ignored the very logical and much-needed other step that could and should have been taken.

The House should have considered rolling back the special tax exemptions provided in the 2012 law for selected businesses. That would have helped close the budget gap as well.

And it would have meant that the businesses would be paying something for the public services they receive from the state.

Alas, the Legislature’s actions on Friday instead raised taxes on the poor and middle-income Kansans.

They were disappointing decisions that will lead to higher taxes for 3 million Kansans.

To reach editorial page columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.

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