Editorial: Repeal the 2012 Kansas tax cuts

Lawmakers should pass tax legislation that won’t put us back in debt next year

On Monday, House Taxation Committee chairman Steven Johnson, R-Assaria, presented a simple proposal to his colleagues in the Senate: Just do away with Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 tax scheme altogether. This would restore the third income tax bracket, raise rates to 3.5 percent, 6.25 percent and 6.5 percent, and generate $1.4 billion in tax revenue over the next two years. While a full repeal of Brownback’s cuts may be politically infeasible, it remains the best way to address the state’s budget shortfall and K-12 funding.


Senate tax negotiator Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, was “speechless” when she received the proposal: “Definitely, not a move I anticipated based off of previous votes. This is a considerable increase on individuals, not just businesses, which I’m sure you’re fully aware.” While it’s true that a total repeal would entail a “considerable increase” of the tax burden for many Kansans, this is only because Brownback signed such a huge decrease in 2012. As such, even modest changes to the state’s tax structure will lead to a large proportional increase — something Brownback has cynically emphasized again and again. For example, when he vetoed House Bill 2178 in February, he described it as the “largest tax hike in Kansas history.”

This is how Brownback kept his tax cuts in place for so long — regardless of how disastrous they proved to be, no one in the GOP-dominated Legislature wanted to support the “largest tax hike in Kansas history” (or any income tax hike, for that matter). But Kansans no longer have any patience for an economic program that has cost the state billions of dollars in revenue and failed to produce the explosion of job growth that they were repeatedly promised. A majority of lawmakers share this view, which is why many of them defeated more conservative opponents in 2016. Almost everyone can see that the 2012 tax cuts have been parasitic — to keep them alive, the state’s highways, pension program, reserve funds and universities had to suffer.

However, Tyson’s response to the prospect of repealing Brownback’s cuts demonstrates something unnerving about the Legislature’s attitude toward fixing the budget. As we noted in an editorial earlier this month, Kansas is projected to bring in about $5.7 billion in fiscal year 2018, while its expenditures will surpass $6.4 billion. The proposal that left Tyson “speechless” would have generated $650 million in FY 2018 — still $50 million short of the amount necessary to cover the gap between how much we’ll spend and how much we’ll bring in. And that’s before the cost of a new school finance formula (which could be more than $150 million per year) is factored in. This doesn’t bode well for the state’s ability to pay its bills.

When we argued that a full repeal of the 2012 tax program is “politically infeasible,” we were referring to the Legislature — not the people of Kansas. Not only did they elect moderate, explicitly anti-Brownback legislators, but they also weren’t interested in any sweeping economic experiments before he took office. According to a survey conducted by Fort Hays State University in 2010, Kansans didn’t want the massive tax break Brownback was about to give them a year later. Only 13 percent said they’d like to see income taxes “significantly decreased,” while 49.3 percent said the income tax rate should “stay the same.”

Legislators should stop worrying about the political consequences of repealing the 2012 tax cuts — if anything, their constituents will thank them for it.

Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Hosman, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.



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