December 13, 2016 

Well, we have a brand-new plan to balance the state budget starting July 1, but instantly, it has become an “us vs. them” political scrap that is likely to put the state Legislature into several fights that it’s too early to handicap.

The plan presented last week by a coalition of groups—interested in financing schools, building highways, taking care of the needs of the poor and paying state employees who are vital to meeting those needs—pencils out nicely to raise money for those purposes.

The Kansas Center for Economic Growth pulled together a wide range of interest groups to assemble a new tax regimen for the state and included taxing those 330,000 LLC-owning Kansans who don’t pay taxes now, reshuffling the tax rates to see the wealthy paying more taxes, cutting the sales tax on food, and boosting the tax on gasoline by 11 cents a gallon.

Instantly, Gov. Sam Brownback’s office slapped the venture, saying it will raise taxes on Kansans. That’s generally a bad political thing to do.

Oddly, few are looking back to the 2012 massive tax cuts at how nice it felt for a year or two, while the state had balances in its budget to make negligible the effects of less money coming into the treasury.

Anyone else thinking that with the knowledge that the state was going to start taking in less money, it would have been a good time to start looking for efficiencies, for sharing of government resources, for finding ways to save money so that those shrinking revenues would cover the cost of services that Kansans want?

Well, that didn’t happen. That’s why the shrinking revenues—for both the current half-over fiscal year and the upcoming two years that Gov. Sam Brownback will present his budget for in January—are scary.

Oh, the governor and Legislature managed while revenues have been dropping the past couple years to cut their way out of a deficit. The Legislature made some cuts in spending, the governor made some cuts in spending, but there really hasn’t been much of a plan for reducing spending or finding efficiencies in government that would match costs with the tax revenue available to finance those costs.

Kansans have seen what amounts to stomping out fires instead of preventing them in the first place.

But, that’s where we are now, legislators say, and some of those new legislators who won election in November are recalling that the job ahead of them didn’t seem nearly so big last spring as it did after their election and the estimates of state revenue for the current and upcoming years subsequently were revealed.

Now, that Center for Economic Growth plan has an interesting wrinkle. Do all the tax increases and shuffling to boost state revenues when the Legislature opens before dealing with the immediate $350 million shortfall for the current fiscal year. An interesting idea. Patch the roof before you dry out the carpet. Probably the way you’d manage your business or household.

With about one-third of the total Legislature being new this year, those newbies are likely to see the advantage of making long-term policy first, essentially creating solid ground to work from in the future, and then dealing with the emergency budget shortfall once the future is secure.

But, doable? Probably not likely, because the Legislature tends to deal with immediate problems, and two-year House terms and four-year Senate terms and a new governor in 2018 tend to make looking into the future very far difficult.

The roofing project might sound logical, but the culture of the Legislature tends to want to dry out the carpet first.

Read more from the Hays Post here.

ClayHAYS POST: HAWVER: Stomping out fires instead of preventing them