In July, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback took the unusual step of announcing an early payment of $24 million in bond debt.
The move was intended to send a signal, and the Republican governor said as much.
At the time, some Statehouse candidates were campaigning on messages of gloom and doom about the condition of Kansas finances. Those candidates were concerned about the size of massive income tax cuts the governor signed into law this year and the potential impact of what could follow — budget shortfalls totaling $2.5 billion over the next six years.
So in July, Brownback’s aim was to project a sense of calm. “We’re in excellent fiscal position right now,” he said.
But a few weeks later came the news that Brownback’s budget director, Steve Anderson, had sent word to agencies to prepare plans for cutting 10 percent of their next budgets. Administration officials pointed out that Anderson also asked for budgets that would increase spending, too.
Still, the idea of 10 percent cuts ruffled a few feathers.
Then came this week’s announcement that the conservative governor is at least mulling the possibility of extending the sales tax hike that lawmakers enacted in 2010. Former Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, muscled that increase through at least partly based on a promise to end the tax July 2013.
But now Brownback is considering what some will call a $251 million tax increase and taking on the thorny prospect of asking arguably the most conservative Legislature in Kansas history to sign off on it.
“I’m not opposed to it,” Brownback told reporters about the possibility of extending the cut.
It was another reminder that the dramatic size of last year’s income tax cut may be too much for Kansas to swallow. Remember, even the governor preferred a smaller package instead of the $4.5 billion cut over six years that he signed into law.
Brownback has predicted that the cut will revitalize the state’s economy. And he has said that the state will experience an 18-month revenue dip before income tax collections surge as companies realize the advantages of lower taxes and start hiring.
But if Brownback proceeds as expected and seeks an extension of the sales tax, will conservative lawmakers go along? I called a few this week and the response I got was more than a few knowing chuckles.
“That’s a very good question,” said state Rep. John Rubin of Shawnee, who said most of his colleagues are opposed.
“I don’t know if it’ll fly or not,” said state Rep. Scott Schwab of Olathe. Much depends on how Brownback packages the idea, he noted.
“He’s going to have to do a good selling job,” said state Sen. Ray Merrick of Stilwell, who is running for the House this year and has a shot at being the next speaker.
The key may be how the 40-50 new members of the House react, Rubin said.
But what a tough nut this could be for Kansas conservatives.
To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.