Yael T. Abouhalkah

Brownback’s sales tax increase will affect Johnson County’s future

Gov. Sam Brownback is putting the pressure on Tuesday, as are some other Kansas legislative leaders: They want their sales tax tax increase and they want it now.

The outcome of this ongoing debate in Topeka could have a big impact in Johnson County.

Specifically, the governor and Senate leaders want to raise the sales tax to 6 percent from the 5.7 percent it’s supposed to be on July 1, as mandated by a 2010 law.

But House Speaker Ray Merrick of Johnson County and many other ultra-conservative House members want to keep the tax at the 5.7 percent level.

They argue — rather logically — that allowing the tax to hit 6 percent or higher (Brownback would love to see a 6.3 percent rate) would be a tax increase on Kansans, something the House members think might be political suicide.

The higher sales tax is needed to help fill the giant hole in the Kansas budget, created when Brownback and the Legislature unwisely slashed income tax rates last year. That move is expected to help Johnson County attract businesses from the Missouri side of the state line.

Meanwhile, raising the sales tax to at least 6 percent would prevent the state from having to cut funding for K-12 schools, one of the primary attractions of Johnson County. Plus, the regressive sales tax falls more heavily on lower-income residents, which are not in large supply — at least proportionately to the rest of Kansas — in Johnson County.

In other words, if you’re in Johnson County, you ought to be rooting for the higher sales tax.

But not so fast.

Some Johnson County leaders think slicing the income tax rate even more, as Brownback and crew want to do while hiking the sales tax, could further reduce revenues and hurt their school systems even more.

Of course, the Kansas Legislature could have avoided all of this by not deciding to tilt the tax system so it relies heavily on the sales tax. The Legislature could have decided it didn’t want to pass out more tax breaks for the rich through lower income taxes.

But the die appears to be case, and — unless Merrick and the House stand in their way — Brownback and the Kansas Senate are going to get their way, get extra millions in sales tax revenue every year and pass even more income tax cuts in the future.