There is an old saying among those who work under the domes of our nation: The two things you never want to see made are sausage and law. Last night and early this morning, we were clearly watching sausage.
It took until 4:00 am, but Governor Brownback and conservative House Republicans finally got their way. They approved a plan to almost balance the budget and to do so with a massive tax increase on the middle class and poor. The Brownback plan that exempts some 338,000 Kansas business owners from all income taxes stays intact. The Brownback plan that caps state revenue growth and uses new revenues to continue the so-called glide path to zero remains intact.
The result is a massive tax increase that acts as a band aid for one year and continues to starve the state into the future. We will find ourselves in the same deficit mess into the future.
Moderate Republicans and Democrats never caved in. They argued to the very end that the bill was unfair and unsustainable. They tried to convince others that the only way to fix the system was to dial back the exemptions for business that have put Kansas in this hole.
But as has become the custom in recent years, common sense in the legislature caves to ideological extremism, fear-mongering, sleep deprivation, and brow beating.
As the vote went up in the wee hours of the morning, the bill was failing. A call of the House was initiated and legislators were locked in the chamber until the 63rd vote was secured. That finally happened at about 4:00 am when Rep. Will Carpenter (R-El Dorado) cast the deciding vote.
Our readers will remember last year, April of 2014, when the session ended in the wee hours of the morning as, under the cover of dark, the Legislature hung anti-teacher and anti-public education policy amendments on the school finance bill and held Representatives hostage until it also passed with the minimum 63 votes.
It makes one wonder how good the policy in the bill really is if the only way to muster enough votes to approve it, you have to lock people in the room, depriving them of sleep and hammering them until the last one caves in.
They Made it Worse
What is really unbelievable is that the latest tax bill – the one the House just approved – is even worse than the one they killed the previous day. Based on the discussion, we believe that the bill:
Raises the sales tax to 6.55% but, unlike other versions of the bill, it does not offset that increase with a reduction in the food sales tax. This means that Kansas would have the highest food sales tax in the nation.
Additonally, while the last bill made alterations to the so-called ratchet provision under which any increases in revenue above a certain percentage would be used to further reduce income taxes, this bill lowered the ratchet point. It had been using all revenue over 3% growth for tax cuts; this bill calls for all revenue over 2.5% to be used for that purpose.
This bill also repeals the food sales tax credit for the poor. The last plan continued that credit.
Please note: We are basing the above on discussions and debate. The conference committee report that is available at this time is not the one voted on last night; the only one available at this time is from June 7. Until we can read the actual report, we cannot with absolute certainty verify the facts.
Of course, as one would believe, one of the problems with sausage making is working without a recipe – or in this case without the actual bill language – while you are making that sausage.
Senate Still Must Act
It’s not all over yet. The Senate still has to approve the conference committee report on HB 2109.
If the Senate approves the report, it will go to the Governor and the session is over. If not, we are back to square one. What happens then is anyone’s guess. The Legislature could go back and try to craft another plan. They could also just give up and let the Governor make budget cuts to balance the budget. The Senate could also vote the report down, then panic, reconsider and approve it.
The Senate convened at 10:00 this morning but quickly recessed until 2:00 this afternoon with plans for caucus meetings to discuss the plan scheduled for 1:00.
Read some editorial analysis of the mess in Topeka