Kansas legislators and Gov. Sam Brownback are playing a game of political “chicken” that could have a profound effect on the state.
Sitting on the governor’s desk is a tax-cut bill that the nonpartisan Kansas Legislative Research Department has determined will produce a state budget shortfall of $2.5 billion to $3 billion by 2018. The budget currently being negotiated in the Legislature totals about $14 billion. Kansans don’t need a calculator to understand the impact that a shortfall equal to about one-fifth of the state’s total budget would have on basic state services like schools, social services and public safety.
Senate leaders say they never intended for this tax-cut bill to go to the governor. The bill initially was rejected by the Senate, but under pressure to pass some kind of tax plan, senators advanced the plan to a House-Senate conference committee, which could hammer out a compromise. When negotiations on the tax-cut bill stalled, the House, with the governor’s encouragement, decided to simply pass the huge tax cut and send it to the governor.
Brownback supported passage of the bill, he said, because it would put pressure on the conference committee to produce a more moderate tax package. According to the governor’s spokeswoman, if a new plan isn’t forthcoming, “We have looked at the numbers and could make it (the current plan) work.” In fact the state budget director announced Monday that his office would apply a new “dynamic scoring model” to the tax-cut plan in hopes of making the number look less daunting.
The governor continues to contend that large business tax cuts will have a positive impact on the state by creating new jobs and new investment, but the size of tax cuts included in the bill on his desk represent a huge — some would say, irresponsible — gamble for the state. Brownback is counting on businesses to use the money they save on taxes to expand their operations and hire more employees, but that supply-side theory has been discredited by many economists.
If the governor really wants to give the House-Senate conference an incentive to come up with a new plan, he should eliminate the backup plan by vetoing the bill that is on his desk. The fact that a group of moderate Republican and Democratic legislators in both the House and Senate have asked for that action may make a veto less likely, but it’s the right move for the state.
It’s not unusual for Kansas lawmakers to leave key business until the end of the legislative session, but the political infighting that is going on in Topeka now has the potential to do real and lasting damage to the state. It’s time to show some statesmanship.