Gov. Parkinson, ask for a tax increase, already

Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson should quit hinting that he might ask the 2010 Legislature to raise taxes and just do it. That advice is already a year late. Not only are the public schools, community colleges and universities hurting, so are the courts, the highway system, the state parks and prisons, the highway patrol and the disabled who depend on state financing for their well-being.
Gov. Parkinson should get specific. Charts should show that state revenues are $869 million less than they would have been if the tax breaks and exemptions granted over the past 15 years had not been made. As lawmakers review the whittling they have done on the state’s tax structure they should keep in mind that every special tax treatment made reduces the tax base, which means that rates must rise to produce the same amount of money. The goal should be to make the tax base as broad as possible so that rates can be as low as possible.
Think about what we’ve done for a minute: Kansas is, in effect, taxing itself less than it was in the mid-1990s and yet lawmakers still talk about slashing budgets and finding still more ways to dodge responsibility for providing an adequate education for Kansas children and funding the state’s universities.
Priority number one, governor, should be repealing ill-conceived tax cuts and eliminating tax exemptions which not only beggar the state treasury but also reduce income to cities, counties and school districts.
If taking that logical first step doesn’t breathe new life into the state treasury, then raise taxes. There are priorities there, too. First, take a look at the business and personal income tax brackets. Kansas shouldn’t go for first place. The middle would be just fine. But let’s be sure we’re comparing apples to apples. Tax laws are complex critters. A comparison to the tax laws
in the neighborhood should be comprehensively made by tax accountants rather than special interest shills.
Perhaps a small increase in the sales tax would also be appropriate — but only after the long list of exemptions has been studied and the laws amended to fit today’s needs for revenues. The same can be said for the statewide property tax and property taxes in general.

BY ALL MEANS, the tax on highway fuels should be increased. It was necessary this year to actually reduce the amount spent on comprehensive highway maintenance to help meet the constitutional requirement to balance the budget. Of all the false economies, this one wins the brass ring. When highway maintenance is short-changed, the effect is to increase maintenance costs geometrically. As asphalt or concrete begins to crumble, the damage becomes progressively worse. Soon it becomes necessary to reconstruct rather than merely repair.
As has been pointed out in these columns repeatedly, the highway fuels tax could be increased at least a dime a gallon without causing a ripple in the market. Prices at the pump go up and down with the phases of the moon. Any increase below 50 cents a gallon would be invisible in a matter of weeks.
Another myth to lay to rest is that a tax increase, any tax increase at all, will bring the state’s economy to a halt and stop recovery in its tracks. That simply isn’t true. Those who make that reverse-Keynesian argument so smugly should be challeged to produce proof. What state among the 50 raised its taxes to meet its expenses and then saw its economy dip deeper than those of its neighbors? If examples can’t be found, assume that the critics are merely blowing smoke to cover up their knee-jerk economics.
To say it again: Kansas lawmakers should not put the state, its public schools, its universities, its poor, its crippled, its sick children and the public courts on a diet they reduced by their own decisions to bread and water. That’s not being conservative; that’s being destructive.
They should create a tax structure that produces what Kansas needs to thrive. Then brag about it.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.