Archive for Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Honest deliberations

During difficult state budget discussions, it’s imperative that lawmakers shoot straight with Kansas taxpayers.

April 21, 2010


Armed with updated revenue estimates, Kansas legislators now can get down to the real work of producing a balanced budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Some painful choices will have to be made. Perhaps the most painful choice, especially during an election year, is to approve some kind of tax increase to close the $510 million budget shortfall now facing the state. It won’t be easy, but the biggest mistake state legislators could make is not to deal honestly with the people of Kansas.

The full Legislature won’t return to Topeka until next week, but the Senate Ways and Means Committee already is hard at work. According to news reports on Tuesday, committee members have been unable to find enough cuts to come even close to filling the budget gap, and Sen. Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican who chairs the committee, predicts that tax increases totalling about $350 million will be needed to fund the budget.

The committee is looking at all kinds of tax possibilities. Tuesday’s focus was a tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks. The proposed tax of one cent per teaspoon of sugar in canned and bottled beverages brought stiff opposition from soft drink bottlers and distributors. The scenario almost certainly will be repeated with every tax increase the Legislature considers.

At least the senators struggling with budget issues are being honest about the tax increases they are considering. The same can’t be said for a group of House Republicans who are standing on a plan they proposed last month that they claimed balanced the state budget without any additional taxes. In reality, the plan simply passes a significant tax burden along to any local community that wants to preserve even the current level of funding for their public schools.

The House plan would cut all state agency budgets by 1 percent and borrow $50 million from the state highway fund. It also wouldn’t replace federal stimulus funds that propped up public school budgets this year, leaving state funding for public schools at least $172 million below this year’s level.

If communities find the level of local funding that resulted from such a cut unacceptable, according to the House plan they would have the option of replacing that revenue with local taxes. So much for “no tax increase.” The state would simply be passing that responsibility on to local taxpayers.

Legislators who staunchly oppose any tax increase say an increase would be too hard on families who continue to struggle with the economic downturn, but a study released Monday by a member of the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group contends that a one-cent sales tax increase actually would be less harmful to the state’s economy than a $350 million budget cut.

The study suggests what most Kansans probably suspect: that the best course for the state is some combination of tax increases and budget cuts. It won’t be easy, but it’s a job state legislators were elected to do and do honestly, not by trumpeting a no-tax-increase budget that simply pushes the tax burden to local governments.


Brent Garner 7 years, 10 months ago

The current tax code, both state and federal, is a monstrosity of confusion! I doubt there is any one individual who has actually read through the entire document. Why? Its just too long! Why not do something revolutionary and visionary? Scrap the entire code and start over. Make the new code blind to special interests--tax breaks to manipulate behavior. Simplifiy the thing so that the typical citizen, sitting at their kitchen table, can understand and comply with the law. But this won't happen I am sure. Why? It would put too many attorneys, accountants, and lobbyists out of work. But maybe that would be a good thing?

notajayhawk 7 years, 10 months ago

"I doubt there is any one individual who has actually read through the entire document."

I used to be a tax examiner for the IRS. The training program - four 40-hour weeks, even for seasonals - consisted not of teaching you the code, but just teaching you where to look in the code if you had a question. (The code itself covered a wall in the department's library.)

"Scrap the entire code and start over."

The woman I was dating when I worked there asked what could be done to fix the tax code. That was my answer, too. Realistically speaking, there isn't any other way. Too much institutional inertia.

"But maybe that would be a good thing?"

You got my vote.

Richard Payton 7 years, 10 months ago

Private companies have had to downsize. Anybody remember the last time our state government employees got a pink slip or had mandatory retirement? Raising taxes avoid having to fire employees. Our government prefers private companies fire their employees much easier for them. Many government agencies are not hiring or have a freeze but tough choices to force people out the door must be at least an option that is explored.

grimpeur 7 years, 10 months ago

Good freaking grief. How about, oh, I don't know...last year?

notajayhawk 7 years, 10 months ago

"During difficult state budget discussions, it’s imperative that lawmakers shoot straight with Kansas taxpayers."

I know this is an alien concept to many people, but, um, shouldn't that be considered an imperative all the time?

Tracy Rogers 7 years, 10 months ago

Take away the GD tax exempt cards that have been given out. There's so much abuse of those things it's ridiculous.

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