Coming to terms with Brownback’s tax cuts

Guys, it’s time to come to terms with Governor Brownback’s tax cuts and what they are doing to Kansas.

Actually, the time to come to terms with this dire reality was a few months ago…..years ago…..sigh.

I have been thinking about writing a post like this for a while (and kicking myself for not doing it sooner). So many brilliant people have been sounding these sirens for months years, and I wasn’t sure what my voice would add to the mix. But recently I have found myself having several conversations with friends about the direction our state is heading. While many people can see things aren’t going well, they are having trouble connecting the dots, and understandably so. The dots weren’t created to be easily connected.

So this is my feeble attempt to reach out to my personal networks with the short and simple of how our governor is ruining our state. Good times! Thanks for stopping by!

How did we get here?

In 2012 & 2013, Governor Brownback signed into law sweeping income tax cuts.

You might be wondering…. “What’s so bad about tax cuts?”

First of all, these tax cuts disproportionally benefit the wealthiest Kansans. While everyone did see an income tax cut (some more than others), the policy also eliminated income taxes completely for 200,000 “small” businesses (which also includes some corporations).

As it currently stands, poor and middle class Kansans carry the heaviest tax burden while those in the top 1% pay the least.

Personally, I saw a ten dollar difference in my paycheck as a result of the initial income tax cuts. Sure, ten dollars more is ten dollars more, but when thought of in terms of what these tax cuts as a whole are actually costing me (more on that later), it’s clear to me that an extra $10 a paycheck is not even close to worth it.

The governor claimed these cuts would “jump start” the economy, while our state was still recovering from the Great Recession. But we’re still twirling our thumbs and waiting for that economic boost.

The reality is that tax cuts for the wealthy do not generate economic growth. And in fact, all we have to show for these reckless cuts is a gigantic deficit to the tune of $1 billion over the next two years, credit downgrades and the slashing of vital government services.

Why does this matter?

Less Kansans paying less taxes means less revenue for the state to pay its bills. And as we have already seen (which is sadly just the beginning), lawmakers are scrambling to fill the giant hole left in the budget as a result of the tax cuts.

The thought, of course, was that increased job growth and economic activity would fill that hole. But that hasn’t happened. Not even close. And in fact, many economists cautioned against the tax cuts knowing they would not spur job growth and would leave us with a deficit.

Just this year alone, Kansas is facing a $648 million shortfall. As Republican state legislator Don Hineman puts it:

“The entire budgets for public safety and general government could be eliminated and we still would not have eliminated the $648.3 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2016.  The budgets for all elected statewide offices and cabinet-level departments could be eliminated, all legislative functions be defunded, highway patrol and KBI abolished, and all state prisoners let out on the streets, and we still would not have totally eliminated the hole in the budget.”

As a result, schools continue to see less funding from the state (in fact the state is cutting funding for education so drastically that it is in violation of the state constitution). As if that isn’t enough, the administration has also hinted at privatizing the state’s pension system for public employees, KPERS. Other government agencies are also cutting back, including those that serve people in great need, such as mental health facilities.

Our state has long depended on a three-pronged approach to taxes which support the state’s services — income, property and sales taxes. Brownback’s ultimate goal is to eliminate the income tax completely. As one of the three tiers becomes eliminated, be prepared for massive increases in the others.

I’ll also put a plug in here briefly about education policy. We are seeing the beginning of efforts to privatize the public education system in Kansas. This has been done and/or attempted in other states. It starts by starving the schools of funding, then criticizing the schools for not performing, then come charters and vouchers, etc. You can find a wealth of information on the privatization of public education, and it’s connection to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) by visiting Game On For Kansas Schools. 

How will this affect young people? 

All Kansans should be concerned about the future of our state. As a 20-something young professional, I am especially concerned, and you should be too.

Would you like to own a house someday? Or maybe you already do? Kansas ranks 26th in the country for property tax burden.  Expect that to only get worse. If Brownback were truly concerned with the tax burden on Kansans, he would have set his sights on property taxes, not income taxes.

Also part of the property tax equation is the role property taxes play in funding local schools. As schools continue to depend more on local tax revenue than on broad state funding, expect that to affect your property taxes as well.

Would you like to have kids someday? Or maybe you already do? Would you like your kids to receive a high-quality public education? I sure would.

The reality is that if our state continues down this path, the idea of not having public school options for my (future) children is very very real. Much less, higher education — whether that be a state university or a junior college.

Even if you don’t have kids or don’t ever plan to have kids, public education still matters to you. Why? Because any child sitting in a classroom today could someday become your employee or your co-worker or your doctor. He/she could build your highways or prepare your food. You are not cut off from the benefits of high-quality and available public education simply because you do not have kids currently in the system. We all benefit from an educated society.

Just to be clear…

The mess we’re in is a direct result of policies pushed by Governor Brownback and his ultra conservative allies.

Our budget deficit has nothing to do with Kathleen Sebelius, although if you’re a Brownback supporter I guess that’s a convenient thing to believe. Our deficit has nothing to do with the federal government, the Obama Administration or the Affordable Care Act, but nice try, Governor.

We 100% owe our deficit woes to the sweeping and reckless income tax cuts of the Brownback Administration. Those cuts could be reinstated, and much of this mess would go away (although not immediately, and not that simply). But of course, we all know there isn’t a chance in hell that’s going to happen.

Now lately, as the depressing numbers continue to be depressing, Brownback has attempted to distance himself, ever-so-slightly, from these cuts. He has proposed slowing down the rate in which income taxes were originally scheduled to decline as well as substantial increases on sin taxes. But those proposals alone will not provide enough revenue to make up the shortfall.

Still don’t believe me? Look at the most recent school finance ruling which found that the current level of funding for K-12 public education is unconstitutional. The judges recognized that the cuts to schools are a result of the large revenue shortfall following the implementation of tax cuts. This did not “happen” to us the way the Great Recession of 2008 — caused by Wall Street greed did. This happened to us, because, Brownback.

Sigh

It is increasingly disappointing to me how greed and selfishness have become enshrined as a cultural values — the “I got mine; you go get yours” mentality. I don’t consider greed to be a Kansas value, yet the utter disdain for paying any kind of tax or helping out any kind of neighbor continues to show its pervasive ugliness. It always boggles my mind to see the same people who are apparently all about Jesus also advocating to cut food stamps for children.

But here’s the thing about paying your taxes. It’s actually not really about your neighbor at all. I guess it sort of is in the mutually beneficial sense, but paying your taxes is mostly about you. If you want all the benefits that come with living in a community, you should be expected to pay your fair share to sustain that community.

If you have so much as stepped foot on a public sidewalk, then you owe somebody something. If you went through the public education system or attended a public university, then you owe somebody something. If you have ever called the police or the fire department in an emergency, then you owe somebody something. If you have ever checked out a book from a library, taken advantage of a tax credit, driven on a public road or sent a letter, then you owe somebody something.

You live in a society in which people depend on and support each other. As much as you might want to be an island, you are not and you never will be. If you want so badly to not pay a dime to the government, then get yourself to some other country where you do not benefit from a military or police force to protect you, and you are on your own when it comes to educating your children.

The people behind these tax cuts have done all of this on purpose. They indeed have theirs — billions and billions of dollars worth, and they do not think they owe the government anything for any service they themselves may have benefitted from or which might help sustain a society that works for everyone. They believe in every man for himself.

It’s a social contract. If you don’t want to pay for community, then don’t live in it. You don’t get the advantages of public goods and services if you are clinging to your money so tightly that you can’t possibly see the social benefit of paying ten dollars more to the state.

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