If you take a look at AP’s top 10 stories in Kansas in 2017, you’ll be reminded what a fascinating and disturbing year it has been for our state. From the violence and severe understaffing at our prisons to the wildfires that ripped through more than 1,000 square miles to a cruel bigot’s attack on two Indian immigrants at a bar in Olathe, the list proves that it’s been a tough year for Kansas.
But we’ve also witnessed triumphs — particularly at the Statehouse. When both chambers of the Legislature voted to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a $1.2 billion tax bill, our state was finally rescued from what had become a perpetual fiscal emergency. Before this year, lawmakers constantly scrambled to cope with shortfall after shortfall by enacting a series of irresponsible and unsustainable half-measures. The highway fund was looted, pension payments were withheld (contributing to our $9 billion unfunded liability) and state agencies had to find a way to do even more with less funding.
As we enter one of the most interesting election years Kansas has seen in a long time, you’ll hear all about how lawmakers shoved their hands into your pockets and stole your money in 2017. But here’s what we’d like to see in 2018: A refusal to let the historical revisionists lie about one of the most important pieces of legislation that has been passed in this state in decades. Kansans shouldn’t forget why Brownback remains one of the least popular governors in the country — or why our state is billions of dollars poorer than it should be.
This won’t be as easy as it sounds. The reactionary, reality-averse wing of the GOP is already hard at work. Gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach is decrying the “disastrous $1.2 billion tax increase” and dutifully reciting a list of exhausted talking points, like this one: “Kansas does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.” Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity has been bombarding voters with fliers to convince them the tax increase was a horrible injustice that must be repealed as soon as possible. Trust us: There’s more to come.
How do these critics suggest that we keep the government running if the Brownback tax cuts are restored? We have no reserves, we’re still borrowing from KDOT, we’re still putting off KPERS payments, we still don’t have a structurally balanced budget, the Legislature will probably be required to increase K-12 spending by hundreds of millions of dollars in 2018 and state agencies already face significant personnel shortages. Oh, that’s right: They’ll cut spending. To these people, governance can always be reduced to four digestible words: lower taxes, cut spending.
Here’s a New Year’s resolution worth keeping: Whenever politicians suggest reviving one of the most costly and ineffective tax experiments in state history, ask them to explain why our economy was outperformed by the rest of the country (as well as much of the Midwest) after the Brownback tax cuts were implemented. Then ask them to explain how substantial their budget cuts would have to be to cover the massive gap between revenue and expenditures that will inevitably form if another Brownback-style tax scheme is passed. Then ask them to specify all the cuts they’ll make (trust us again: they’ll refuse to do so).
It’s always politically safe to say, “I’ll cut your taxes.” But in 2018, let’s defend the progress our lawmakers have made and prove that Kansans aren’t gullible enough to fall for Brownback 2.0.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.