Give “Rise Up, Kansas” credit — at least the group has offered a plan to address the state’s budget issues. That’s more than anyone else can say for now.
That won’t last. More plans are coming, including Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal, due in January, that isn’t likely to look anything like what Rise Up, Kansas put forward Wednesday.
Rise Up, Kansas is a coalition of state lobby groups: the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, Kansas Action for Children, the Kansas National Education Association, the Kansas Organization of State Employees and the Kansas Contractors Association.
On Wednesday the group called for increasing taxes by just over $1 billion in order to balance the budget, increase funding for public schools and restore funding for the state highway program. The plan would reverse income tax cuts Brownback pushed through in 2012 and 2013 and raise motor fuel taxes by 11 cents a gallon to restore funding for the state highway program.
Rise Up, Kansas said the income tax changes would raise an estimated $820 million a year for the state general fund starting in July, while the motor fuel tax would raise another $197 million a year for highways and other transportation projects.
The plan calls for closing the so-called LLC loophole that exempts farmers and business owners from state income taxes altogether, and ending the so-called “march to zero” that automatically lowers income tax rates whenever state revenues grow beyond a set limit
“The last years can only be described as a senseless era of crisis,” said Duane Goossen of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth. “We made a dangerous gamble on a tax plan without any evidence that it would work, and we lost.”
Evidence supports Goossen’s assessment. The state’s tax policies have not produced the economic growth that Brownback and others promised. In fact, Kansas has lagged the rest of the nation in job creation, employment and income growth. In the meantime, the state’s coffers have been depleted as tax revenues consistently have fallen short of projections, meaning massive cuts to state spending still haven’t been enough to get the budget into the black.
It would be naïve to think the Rise Up, Kansas plan is going to be the strategy that ultimately gets adopted by Brownback and the Legislature, but give the group credit for starting the conversation and putting on the table tax policy changes that absolutely should be debated in 2017.