Kansas’ state revenue for February’s came up short, but is that really a surprise to anyone?
The state’s tax receipts were $53 million short of estimates for the month. Individual income taxes were down by $27 million and sales taxes down $12 million according to the Kansas Department of Revenue.
Gov. Sam Brownback claimed the shortfall had more to do with economic problems and less to do with his administration’s tax policies, and that may be true. The oil and agriculture economies have seen a downturn and other Midwestern states are seeing some economic pains too. But the fact that we are this volatile in the budget shows that we are continuing toward a precipice in funding.
Among the “fixes” for this shortfall was to cut $17 million in funding from the state’s six Regents universities. Additionally, the newest budget bill empowers the governor to make specific cuts in the event unexpected shortfalls like this one reoccur.
This whole situation is a symptom of a bigger problem. The tax policy. The governor won’t concede to the fact that the income tax exemption for 330,000 businesses is really hurting the state. The administration says this is a “one-month blip,” but what if it isn’t?
While the budget passed in February repairs a projected $200 million shortfall, it only leaves a reserve of $6 million. Additionally, the state has yet to address the issue of K-12 funding.
A recent Kansas Supreme court ruling ordered the Legislature to adequately fund schools constitutionally by June 30 or the state school system will face a shutdown for the 2016-17 year. By some estimates, this could require an additional $100 million. To add to that, lawmakers have also been talking about reducing even more taxes in the form of the grocery tax.
When will they understand that this is less to do with an economic problem and more to do with a tax policy problem – the reverse of what the governor claims. Sure, spending needs to be addressed. But the solution is not to slowly gut the education funding of the state.
The fact that every month, it seems, there is a report about Kansas budget not being adequate shows that the policy is unstable at best. We are the only state facing this type of revenue volatility. That should tell lawmakers something, but instead they keep pressing forward like nothing is wrong.
As the governor and Legislature continue to put ideology ahead of practicality, we as citizens of Kansas should understand that we too have a part to play in the blame. We had a chance to change course in 2014 during election season. The majority of the state chose the status quo.
While we should continue to put pressure on our elected officials to bring back sanity to the budget, we should also start supporting politicians that have their heads on straight: ones that put the welfare of the state ahead of ideology. This tax experiment has failed. Let’s work to fix that in 2016.