Opinion: Taxes pose human question

January 30, 2013


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.


streetman 5 years, 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.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

Actually, we are a wealthy nation, and we can easily afford the government services that Brownback, et al, are slashing. But doing so does entail making the choice between expecting folks like the Kochs to pay their fair share, or just giving them a free pass altogether.

gr 5 years, 2 months ago


What percentage of income do you think is Kochs' fair share?

chootspa 5 years, 2 months ago

It's higher than their current income tax contribution of 0%.

Alyosha 5 years, 2 months ago

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


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.

Alyosha 5 years, 2 months ago

That's a reasonable response, for which I thank you. I do note the difference between "may" — which denotes a possibility of action — and "shall," which indicates a positive mandate for action, in the Kansas constitution.

Still, though, it is clear that the Kansas constitution provides us with the best and most controlling insight into the proper role of government, and the "core functions" of government people talk about when floating ideas.

What is not in the constitution is anything about using money from the public coffers for private business grants or loan guarantees. It's clear that the Kansas constitution mandates a government that serves we the people, and not business interests at the cost of damaging the public good.

Your note about wasting taxpayer money is of course well-taken; any reasonable Kansan understands and supports our government representatives being good stewards of the public good and public finances.

Lastly, I suggest that it is in no way easy to find money or food or housing for free or next to free. So that seems like a straw man argument.

gr 5 years, 2 months ago

Alyosha, could you provide some examples of what is being cut that the constitution allows funding for?

optimist 5 years, 2 months ago

"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."

...or the individual is empowered by their Creator and forms government for the purposes of preserving individual rights (fairness), acting only to prevent one individual from impinging on rights of another individual and acting only in those instances where absolutely necessary to balance an imbalance (the scales of justice). The Constitution was written as a limitation on the government preventing it and a simple majority from running roughshod over the minority. While we apparently tolerate it too frequently, just because the legislature passes a law, the executive signs the law and the judiciary fails to act accordingly doesn’t mean that the law is Constitutional if it is specifically prohibited by the Constitution.

Alyosha 5 years, 2 months ago

The Declaration of Independence mentions nothing about the Creator empowering individuals.

It does state that it is an self-evident truth the governments are instituted among men to secure those rights among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And of course it is up to the judiciary to decide when a law passed by legislature violates the Constitution. I'm not aware of anyone arguing against that.

In terms of Kansas, it's quite clear, from the constitution, what the core functions of government are.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

You really can't get away from it - the founders believed that those rights came from God.

Alyosha 5 years, 2 months ago

Would you then agree, Gotland, that you stand in opposition to the Kansas constitution?

Armstrong 5 years, 2 months ago

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

jhawkinsf 5 years, 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.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

I think it's unlikely that in KS, a solidly R state for many years, the pendulum has swung anywhere near too far in the direction of services.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

Are you including unfunded mandates from the Federal government? Solidly R looks less solid if those are included.

Armstrong 5 years, 2 months ago

Going on 5 years ago now. How long are you gonna beat that dead horse?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

Unfunded mandates have been coming down from Washington for a lot longer than 5 years. Decades would be closer to the truth.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

No, and unfunded mandates wouldn't fit your definition, would they?

If the objection is to "giving away the farm", they'd have to include funding to qualify as such.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

My initial comment wasn't meant to be limited to this state nor was it meant to be limited to today. I was thinking very broadly. When you limited it to Kansas, I tried to again expand it back to a very broad outlook that would include services provided by the federal government, state, county, city. Included in that would be the feds mandating things but expecting states to pick up the tab. What Brownback is currently doing is very similar. He's cutting state funding while expecting counties or cities to pick up the slack. (Think the SRS office here in Lawrence).

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

Well the lte is about KS, which is why I commented on it.

Your "pendulum" idea may sometimes be correct, but in many other cases it's not. In a conservative state like KS it's rather unlikely the pendulum has ever swung far in a liberal direction, and the reverse is likely true in a liberal state.

Brownback may or may not expect local entities to pick up the slack - he may be just fine if services are cut.

optimist 5 years, 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.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

The system of taxation you propose would be regressive, and would have the exactly the opposite effect that you assert. It would continue the redistribution of wealth to the already wealthy that has been underway in the last 30 years, in no small part because the taxes the wealthy pay have been steadily decreasing in that time.

Alyosha 5 years, 2 months ago

The simple fact remains that in Kansas, the constitution clearly states core functions of the state government, and those core functions of education "...and such other benevolent institutions as the public good may require, shall be fostered and supported by the state" are to be funded by the state.

That requires public revenue, which means taxes.

Nowhere in the constitution of Kansas, nor in the U.S. Constitution, is it stated that the government operates and serves only those who pay taxes.

In fact, a main premise of the Kansas constitution is that services for the benefit of the public good shall be fostered and supported by the state. That requires taxes, as the constitution clearly acknowledges and allows for.

If clearly not the Kansas constitution, upon what are you basing your governmental / social values?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

Yep, Kansas was once a progressive state, and the Constitution reflects that. Now, it's turning downright Dickensian. Bring on the debtors' prisons.

seriouscat 5 years, 2 months ago

The above argument seems to embody the current GOP mantra...and the weirdest thing about it is that people keep buying it even though it totally ignores the fact that most of us actually are raising kids here and live here and therefore are the biggest stakeholders with the most to lose if we continue to allow the slide to third world social conditions and wealth inequality. NEWSFLASH: Businesses main focus is the bottom line and that has nothing to do with creating opportunity or jobs for the future of this country or any other.

And yes...government, for several decades now goes out of its way to help business at the expense of the people who live here work here and raise our children here. Why do you think business invests millions of dollars on "lowering burdensome regulations and taxation"? Do you really believe that it's because they want everyone to "share the ownership" of our country or the economy? It's because it's the BEST investment for their money!

seriouscat 5 years, 2 months ago

This was supposed to be a reply to optimist. LJW is glitchy.

verity 5 years, 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.

Maddy Griffin 5 years, 2 months ago

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

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