Check out Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s ramrod straight spine this week.
Many other Republican lawmakers are running around sounding almost frantic about the new and probably disappointing state revenue estimates set to be released on Wednesday.
But Brownback has made it clear once again: He’s not going to repeal the unfair income tax cuts that he pushed through the Legislature in 2012.
“A plan to raise taxes on small businesses or anyone else will not be among” any proposal to balance the state budget if the revenue projections are poor, his office said over the weekend.
This is an election year. Suddenly, GOP lawmakers who want to keep their taxpayer-funded jobs are looking around, seeing how unpopular Brownback is and finally talking about Kansas’ real economic woes.
Some Republicans who a few years ago walked in lockstep with Brownback in passing income tax cuts that are costing the state about $600 million a year or more in revenue are having second thoughts.
They are dissing Brownback and his lack of leadership on establishing a solid budget that provides good services to residents without diverting road funds, cutting education funds and halting payments into a state pension fund.
▪ Sen. Jim Denning of Overland Park caused a ruckus over the weekend when he said someone had “signaled already to me personally” that Brownback would not veto a rollback of the tax exemption for about 330,000 businesses and farmers. That move could restore $200 million a year or more to the state coffers.
▪ “Let him own it,” Rep. Mark Hutton of Wichita said of the state’s tanking budget. “It’s his policy that put us there.”
▪ “We’re growing weary,” said Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita. “We’d prefer to see some real solutions coming from the governor’s office” while keeping taxes low.
But all this tough talk doesn’t matter much unless one major action occurs.
A large majority of Republican lawmakers need to join the small number of Democrats in the Legislature to repeal at least the business portion of the tax cuts.
That could happen starting next week, when lawmakers come back from their spring break.
The tax reductions were supposed to jumpstart job creation in Kansas. But in the most recent year, Kansas gained exactly zero jobs from March 2015 to March 2016, according to figures compiled by state and federal officials.
Or a much less positive action could occur.
The Legislature could wimp out, refuse to change the state’s tax system and thus put all the pressure on Brownback to solve Kansas’ budget problems. Remember, he can’t run for re-election in 2018 because of the state’s two-term limit on governors.
Without the promise of more revenue coming in during the next fiscal year starting July 1, Brownback would have to trim funding for even more state programs.
GOP lawmakers could shrug their shoulders when the budget reductions are announced. Don’t blame us, would be their mantra.
Yet Kansans should put the blame squarely on any Republican legislators who enabled Brownback’s tax cuts to make it into state law and thus damage the state’s ability to provide good public services.