Kansas raises taxes…reluctantly and nastily

kansas Kansas Governor Sam Brownback [R]—who started the whole mess—knows it. The Republican dominated Kansas legislature—who gleefully made it happen—knows it, too. The radical, right-wing economic experiment in tax reduction that they imposed on Kansas citizens has failed—miserably, ignominiously, publicly—to do what its theoreticians promised it would do: magically stimulate the Kansas economy through that good-old, theoretical mantra known as “trickle-down” economics.

But for liberal/progressives who saw the trickle-down philosophy for what it really was—utter bullshit designed to kill the government programs that “fetter” capitalism—there is no real joy in its failure, because the effects Brownback’s policies have hurt people—actual people, not corporations—so badly.

We could, I suppose, take some satisfaction from the desperation now rampant among Kansas’ Republican “leadership,” and their decision to, with tails between their legs, do precisely what they said they would never have to do: raise taxes. We could say that, with Kansas raising taxes, pigs are flying and hell has frozen over.

But, in fact, there is little satisfaction to be taken, because, true to form—form being protection of the rich and punishment of the poor—they are “raising taxes” in the worst possible way.

The taxes they are raising are those that hit lower-income people the most. According to the Kansas City Star, a bill passed [June 2, 2015] in the Kansas Senate would increase sales taxes from 6.15 percent to 6.55 percent beginning July 1 and drop the sales tax on food to 4.95 percent in July 2016. It would eliminate most itemized deductions and raise the cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack to $1.29.

At the same time, they are steadfastly sticking to their low state-income-tax policy. According to BankRate.com,

Kansas revised its individual income tax system in 2013, going from three tax brackets to two and reducing the rates for both. At that time, the rates became 2.7 percent on the first $15,000 of taxable income, and 4.8 percent on taxable income of $15,001 and more.

By comparison, Iowa has nine income-tax brackets, with the highest being 8.98 percent [on taxable income over $68,176]

But even Kansas’ very low tax rate is not low enough for Gov. Brownback. When he was first elected, he vowed to repeal the state income tax entirely, claiming that reducing income taxes and raising sales taxes is a more efficient way to raise revenue and to attract businesses to the state. He is now seeing the disastrous results of that idea–a reported $400 million budget shortfall.

Kansas’ move to bump up sales taxes is shameful. Sales taxes are regressive, raising everyday costs disproportionately for those with less disposable income. Couple increased sales taxes with the state’s very low income-tax rate [or, worse yet, the absence of a state income tax—Brownback’s dream], and you have a situation in which lower-income people are, in effect, subsidizing their wealthier counterparts.

It’s obvious that a better solution would be to do the logical, responsible and fair thing: Institute a more realistic income-tax rate—in a progressive structure that would ask more of those who have more. Or, at the very least, institute a luxury tax on high-cost items. But apparently, even as its schools fall apart, its infrastructure goes unrepaired, its safety-net services fail, and its police, fire and EMS services go underfunded, Kansas’ state government is not interested in doing its job.

Kansas’ political leaders [and I use that term very loosely] have been using an economic argument that they know to be false, as cover for their penchant for helping their wealthy buddies and campaign donors. Their new revenue-producing, “corrective” policies cynically protect the rich and judgmentally punish the poor, rather than being anything remotely resembling the right thing.