The morning after the election was tough. Half the country woke up feeling devastated, the other half awoke feeling excited. Regardless of who you voted for, it’s hard to come back together when we feel so deeply divided.
In Kansas, however, we have a special opportunity to rise to the occasion.
The top of the ticket gripped our attention on Election Day, but down ballot races told another powerful story. That story began four years ago, when Governor Brownback set Kansas on a path to eliminate the state income tax. Despite worrisome headlines, he insisted we ignore anyone who projected a gloomy forecast.
Then, in 2014, economists correctly estimated his plan would create a minimum $660 million deficit over two years. Bad news just worsened from there and Kansans could only cover their ears for so long. On Tuesday, they elected 56 new state legislators.
This marks the beginning of a hopeful new chapter in the Kansas story. It also presents a desperately needed opening for comprehensive tax reform.
Let’s get it right this time.
- Job #1: Stop the bleeding. The first year alone of the Brownback tax plan inflicted more damage to state finances than the entire Great Recession. Kansas continues to hemorrhage revenue, resulting in nine rounds of budget cuts, record-high debt, and three credit rating downgrades. Our struggling communities need relief, but Kansas can’t start healing while still in triage mode. In 2017, we must immediately fix our structural revenue imbalance to prevent further cuts, accepting that significant re-investment is probably at least another year away.
- Secondly, we must broaden the tax base. Taking a comprehensive approach means reviewing our entire tax code – not just the income tax. Kansas’ sales and property tax structures are also antiquated and unfair. By modernizing all revenue sources, we can ensure all Kansans pay the fairest possible taxes at the lowest possible rates.
- Finally, we must repair the damage. It will likely take a generation to fully recover from this horrible experiment. But once we get our fiscal house back in order, Kansans can embrace their aspirational, pioneering instincts yet again. Our vision should embody our state motto and aim for the stars, but it must begin with commonsense basics. This requires new priorities, like a plan to pay down the unprecedented debt the current administration intends to leave our children. It means re-investing in services essential to prosperous communities and good-paying jobs. It means lifting the burden the Brownback plan forced onto our lowest-earning Kansans. And it means establishing a responsible state savings account.
Sadly, we’ll never recover the opportunities we lost throughout this senseless era of crisis. But the Kansas election results offer hope that we can begin restoring those opportunities for future generations. Lawmakers must now rise above the political fray and find courage to make difficult decisions in 2017.
Kansans are innovative, resilient people. Hopefully soon we will once more walk through the doors of the state capitol and imagine the possibilities, rather than fear what painful emergency lurks next around the corner.