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Opinion

Opinion

Opinion: Taxes pose human question

January 30, 2013

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As the Kansas Legislature continues to debate whether to cut taxes and government services further, I have been thinking about the purpose of government at the state level. Ten years ago, if I remember correctly, the conservative political agenda in Kansas was to limit tax increases and to eliminate inefficiencies in government operations. Today those goals have been transformed into eliminating all income taxes and scaling back the size and scope of government services. This is a radical change. We have reached the point where we are seeing the implementation of an agenda that would shift the focus of state government away from providing the current level of social and educational services to a much lower level.

At the root of this radical shift away from providing social and educational services is the overarching policy of lowering and eliminating taxes on business so that the state may create a more favorable business environment. What this means in practice is a march toward the elimination of all income taxes, the shifting of the tax burden to sales and property taxes, the elimination of certain individual income tax deductions like the deduction for home mortgage interest until the income tax is completely eliminated, and, of course, the scaling back of services provided by the state.

In effect, the purpose of state government is being shifted away from helping individual citizens, especially the poor and the disabled. Instead, the new purpose of state government is to help business. By helping business, supporters of this shift argue, individual citizens will be helped because the economy will improve, jobs will be created, and this new wealth will “trickle down” to even the poorest citizens.

In effect, what is now happening in Kansas at the state level is a move away from the idea of government as a “social safety net,” an idea that gained national influence when President Roosevelt and Congress created the “new Deal” in the 1930s. We are now clearly returning to a more rugged form of free market economics that sees the primary purpose of government as aiding economic development.

Here’s the problem, as I see it, with the shift in government purpose that is now going on. There are a great number of people in Kansas who benefit from a variety of social and educational services. As these services are eliminated or scaled back, those who benefit from them will suffer, in some cases, quite seriously. Many of those negatively affected are older Kansans, young children, and the disabled, who cannot easily or affordably replace the lost government services.

Thus, until our economy improves and until — and “if” — there is a trickle down effect that helps these people, their suffering will continue. So it comes down to a simple question: Are we, as Kansans, willing to see our fellow citizens, many of whom cannot replace lost government services, suffer grievously? That, to me, is the real question. It is not simply an economic question; it is a human question.

— Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.

Comments

grammaddy 1 year, 2 months ago

Did anyone really expect any different when they elected the Koch-puppet for Governor?

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ReturnOfLogicsound 1 year, 2 months ago

And "trickle down" trickles on.

They just don't call it that anymore.

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verity 1 year, 2 months ago

Once again, macro-economics and micro-economics do not work the same way. The money the government spends usually does go back into the economy unless hoarded or sent offshore. Mostly not the lower classes doing that.

There appears to be several groups of people who don't pay income taxes.

Some of the very wealthy and/or corporations who can manage to get around it. They may also be getting government subsidies---Takers for sure.

Retirees, many who invested in things like Roth IRAs that, by paying upfront, would lessen the burden later. We are getting royally screwed by Brownback's tax plan.

Those whose income is so low they are below the limit. These would include people poorly paid for their labor even though they may work vey hard and at several jobs for businesses sucking from the government tit several times over---no or little income taxes, subsidies and employees who are on government programs because they're paid so poorly.

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optimist 1 year, 2 months ago

The premise that somehow Government is “helping” business by reducing over burdensome taxation or as importantly over burdensome regulation on business, which bears the brunt of the overall tax burden, is ridiculous. It implies that Government is entitled to the wealth of others (i.e. business owners, stock holders, et al) and what’s more that those that benefit from the redistributive efforts of Government are “entitled” to that wealth which was not earned simply by voting into office candidates that promise to play Robin Hood. By lowering the burden and allowing businesses to grow and the economy to expand there is more opportunity for more people to EARN their fair share of the economy, the American dream. “Trickle down” implies that this money magically moves from the higher socioeconomic levels to the lower. By flattening the tax code and imposing a more equitable tax on every citizen regardless of their income would preserve and hopefully increase the sense of ownership each of us has in our state and our country. Taxation has become an us against them drama unfortunately exacerbated by the President with the “they must pay their fair share” rhetoric. Currently half of all Americans either pay no INCOME taxes or receive a subsidy from the IRS every year in lieu of paying INCOME tax. As long as this goes on there is no hope for the future of the country. Too few have a stake in it.

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jhawkinsf 1 year, 2 months ago

There has to be a balance between providing no services and giving away the farm. It usually works like a pendulum, swinging far one way, then the other. If you think it's moved too far one way, that's because it swung too far the other, but be comforted, it will swing back again.

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Armstrong 1 year, 2 months ago

Another way to look at " the shift " is planning for the futrure.Those who fail have usually failed to plan.

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Gotland 1 year, 2 months ago

Illinois, a large government paradise is right down the road. The only government program I support is gas money for those Kansans who wish to move there.

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Alyosha 1 year, 2 months ago

A great place to educate ourselves about the purpose of state government is the Kansas constitution:

http://www.kslib.info/government-information/kansas-information/kansas-constitution.html

Some key elements of the core function of Kansas government are seen in Article 7, and directly mandate or make clear the need for social support programs:

"Institutions for the benefit of mentally or physically incapacitated or handicapped persons, and such other benevolent institutions as the public good may require, shall be fostered and supported by the state"

"The respective counties of the state shall provide, as may be prescribed by law, for those inhabitants who, by reason of age, infirmity or other misfortune, may have claims upon the aid of society."

"The state may provide by law for unemployment compensation and contributory old-age benefits and may tax employers and employees therefor."

"The legislature may levy a permanent tax for the creation of a building fund for institutions caring for those who are mentally ill, retarded, visually handicapped, with a handicapping hearing loss, tubercular or for children who are dependent, neglected or delinquent and in need of residential institutional care or treatment"

The "Self-evident truths" enunciated in the Declaration of Independence (that wonderful argument that motivated the creation of a new, independent government) are not limited to the fact that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. An equally important self-evident truth voiced by our Founders (which does not get enough attention) is that governments are instituted among men to secure our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In other words, each citizen — according to the Declaration of Independence — needs the power of government to make secure and protect their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and protect the general public good.

The Kansas Constitution clearly lays out the core functions of government that are intended to secure in an ongoing manner each citizens rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — including funding public education, assisting those citizens who through misfortune deserve sympathy and aid.

Those who claim that "government is the problem" are in direct contradiction to the truths enunciated in the Declaration of Independence.

And those who act as though the core function of government in Kansas is to help businesses do not have a constitutional leg to stand on. There is no constitutional mandate to give cash grants to businesses, for example.

It's time for Kansans to remember our values and our heritage as embodied in the state constitution, and to create a government that acts to secure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, in the name of the public good.

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streetman 1 year, 2 months ago

Well, Mike, few, if any, want to see any of our fellow citizens "suffer grievously." But you ignore a couple of important things: 1) we simply cannot afford the cumulative largess of several layers of "government services," and 2) there are more "services" than are legitimately needed -- they have piled-up for a long, long time. We have to make cuts. The "grievous" will always be taken care of, but not everything is grievous.

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