Will Major Policy Goals Require A Tax Increase?

Jan 23, 2019

Democrat Laura Kelly is now governor. The Republicans still control both houses of the legislature. Now, the question is whether or not she can accomplish major policy goals such as funding K-12 education, introducing expanded Medicaid, and funding other pressing program needs without a tax increase.

Raising any tax is politically dangerous for the incumbent officeholder. The late William Avery stepped down from the U.S. House of Representatives to run for governor in 1964. At the time, Kansas had never had a state income tax withholding system. Payment of state income taxes was based on voluntary compliance. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the state decided to cross-list some automobile registrations with the payment of state income taxes that was supposed to be paid under voluntary compliance. They found that some owners of luxury cars such as Lincolns and Cadillacs were not paying state income tax. So, Governor Avery instituted a state income tax withholding system to keep people honest. Governor Avery also asked for and received some small increases in income and sales taxes.

How well were the tax changes received? The answer came in 1966 when Robert Docking defeated Avery, introducing what he called a “tax lid.” Docking said he thought Kansans needed “some protection from taxes.” When he came to speak to a class of mine near the end of his tenure as governor in 1974, a student asked, “If you run again, will you still be talking about money?” Docking replied, “Young man, there has never been a gubernatorial election in Kansas in my lifetime when money was not the issue.”

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