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The Legislative Session Ends, But At What Cost?

Stephen Koranda
KPR/File photo

Emotions ran high, the political atmosphere was tense, and Governor Brownback reportedly “choked up” in a meeting with legislative leaders before the Kansas legislature ended its 2015 session at 4:00 a.m. on a Friday, when the House passed the largest tax increase in Kansas history.

Critics argue that the legislative session did not produce a fair and equitable tax system. The most significant measure adopted is the increase in the sales tax from 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent, which is expected to generate $164.2 million. Critics charge that this regressive tax makes poor people even poorer. Also, many poor people smoke, and they will pay 50 cents more for a pack of cigarettes. One carrot for the poor is that income taxes for 2016 are eliminated for 380,000 low income families.

It is doubtful that the revenue and tax policies adopted during the legislative session will fix the state’s revenue problem. One reason is that about one-half of the monies to plug this year’s deficit of $800 million came from one-time transfers from other state accounts such as transportation. Governor Brownback remains steadfastly committed to the 2012 income tax cuts for more than 300,000 business entities, which critics charge are the main reason for revenue shortages. In fact, the Governor praised the legislature for supporting his “pro growth” policies.

How many of the 165 legislators will not run for election next year after experiencing depression and frustration during this legislative session? One House member told me that this session was so grueling that he will not run again if the state has similar fiscal problems in the 2016 session. Also, will incumbents who reneged on a campaign pledge under pressure and voted to raise taxes want to stand for election against a challenger and face the wrath of Grover Norquist and Americans for Prosperity and the reminder about that campaign pledge?

What can we expect for the state’s future? As the Chinese would say, “May you live in interesting times.”

Dr. Ken Ciboski is an associate professor emeritus of political science at Wichita State University.