A con game in Kansas swipes budget integrity
The Kansas City Star
Beware, Kansans. A band of pickpockets is roaming your state Capitol.
They are not easy to spot, blending easily into the crowd in their coats, ties and business dress. But if you stop to watch certain committee meetings or sessions of the House and Senate, you can see them at work.
They are your state legislators, desperately seeking cash after giving it away in the form of income tax cuts last session.
The disastrous tax move has stripped the Kansas Legislature of its integrity. There is no promise that can’t be broken, no pot of money in state government safe from plunder.
Just look at some of what has been proposed:
Swipe $500,000 from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks’ cabin rental fund. The department, which is under orders to become financially self-sufficient, had been accruing the money to pay for maintenance projects.
Dip into an oil and gas depletion trust fund, which uses a portion of the excise tax on oil and gas production to protect rural counties from harm to their property tax bases from those activities. Senators voted to take $5 million from that fund to pay for university building projects.
Raid funds intended for highway projects.
Use gaming money to pay the state’s contribution to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, a move of questionable legality.
In fairness, most of these measures have been tried before, to balance budgets in recession years. But this budget deficit is self-inflicted, and Gov. Sam Brownback is willing to make it grow even larger with more income tax cuts.
The cuts are a gamble in the interest of “growth,” but at a cost to the state and its people.
Brownback wants to make permanent a portion of the emergency one-cent sales tax that is supposed to expire in July. The Senate has agreed to do this. The House so far is holding out, but its alternative is to drain the state’s cash reserves.
Proposed cuts in spending would likely cause universities to raise tuition and force local governments to increase property taxes.
Also, lawmakers are ready to renege on a pledge to raise the salaries of low-paid state workers.
The Kansas Legislature has the feel of a powerful family whose members have been reduced to raiding their own estates and assets. Why in the world would neighboring Missouri want to make the same sorry mistakes?