No friend of working Kansans
By Rod Haxton, editor
When it comes to alternative facts, the Brownback Administration has no intention of taking a backseat to Donald Trump.
Whether it’s boasting about job growth, business creation, education funding or the condition of our highways, the Administration has created its own alternate reality.
Grabbing top billing on the alternative facts marquee this week are taxes. You know . . . the ones so low that new business and industry will come pouring into Kansas . . . only they haven’t.
The state’s budget has tanked. Our credit rating has been downgraded. We’re beyond broke. We need $1 billion to close the projected shortfall over the next 18 months.
And yet Brownback and a few fiscal Neanderthals who remain in the legislature still don’t see a problem.
Well, that’s not entirely true either. State Sen. Dennis Pyle (R-Hiawatha), an ultraconservative Republican, says we shouldn’t blame the 2012 tax cuts for our fiscal catastrophe.
Pyle says the state has a “spending problem” and it’s become an “addiction.”
Pyle isn’t alone. He was among ultraconservatives who supported the original tax cut and have stood on the sideline while education, our social safety net and our state’s infrastructure have been sacrificed at the altar of supply side economics.
Pyle doesn’t want to be seen as enabling those who are addicted to a quality public education system or good highways in our state.
So, when the governor vetoed a bill this week to hike taxes just enough to cover the estimated deficit, we were reminded by Brownback’s communications director Melika Willoughby that it was for our own benefit. She emerged from her rabbit hole to explain that the governor was simply protecting working Kansans from the largest tax increase in our state’s history.
Brownback called the legislation an “assault on the pocketbooks of the middle class.”
What Brownback, Willoughby and other tin foil hat economists in the Administration refuse to acknowledge is that their 2012 tax cuts have been an assault on the very people they claim to be protecting.
When the governor’s tax plan was originally passed, the state’s non-partisan Legislative Research Department estimated it would cost the state $5 billion in lost revenue by 2019. In order to cover the massive amount of lost revenue to date, the state has nearly exhausted its reserves, sold off assets such as the Bioscience Authority and enacted a wide array of budget cuts.
With this latest attempt to do away with the governor’s signature tax plan, his Administration has chosen to engage in alternative facts by claiming to be a friend of the middle class while moderate Republicans and Democrats are only concerned with reckless spending.
Perhaps that allows tax cut supporters to sleep better at night, but it’s a lie.
In reality, it’s middle class Kansans who have suffered most under the 2012 tax cuts.
Those tax cuts are costing the state about eight percent of the revenue it uses to fund schools, health care and other public services. In response, services and programs are being cut that directly affect the lives of middle class families.
Last year, Brownback cut higher education spending by four percent. Universities responded by increasing tuition fees by 3.6 to six percent.
This hits the pocketbooks of middle class families.
Two years ago the legislature raised the sales tax from 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent in order to fill a growing budget deficit. According to the Tax Foundation, the Kansas sales tax was the eighth highest in the nation and, of course, it has a big impact on middle- and low-income families.
The state’s continued refusal to adequately fund public education saw lawmakers instead adopt a grant program that froze the amount of money for local school districts at the 2014-15 level for two years. School districts have had to maximize their local option budgets (property tax levies) or increase student fees to offset the funding shortfall.
That cost impacts middle class Kansans.
A year ago, the legislature approved an increase in vehicle title fees so the state could hire more highway patrol troopers.
It’s yet another hidden tax that hits the pockets of middle- and low-income Kansans.
When the legislature cuts Medicaid reimbursements for hospitals and nursing homes, that loss of funding has to be made up somewhere - either through additional fees or higher property taxes.
And who’s hit hardest by these costs?
For the past four years, Kansas has been the poster child for a disastrous tax policy. We have served as a reminder that Reaganomics was a failure when it was first conceived and remains a failure today.
Brownback and ultraconservatives aren’t concerned with protecting working Kansas taxpayers. They’re only concerned with protecting their fragile egos and patching the state budget together until they can get out of Topeka.
But even for the wealthiest Kansans, the short-term gain comes at a high cost. When our schools, our highways, our elderly, our young people and the institutions important to our future are sacrificed then we all suffer.
This Administration has failed not just working class Kansans, but all Kansans. That’s a truth Brownback, Willoughby and their fellow ultracons can’t alter.
Rod Haxton can be reached at email@example.com
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