Incredible ideas, like tax hikes, just the ticket

Increase taxes? In Kansas? Wow, how unreal can you get?
Democrat Gov. Mark Parkinson, who says he, no-matter-what, won’t run for re-election, said last week that Kansas “is very close” to having to choose between raising state income or doing structural damage to education, law enforcement, health programs for children and the poor, state lakes and parks and the other essential services provided to the people.
Parkinson put it this way to Associated Press writer John Hanna: “We need to provide sufficient funding so that — although there will be pain during this time — the basic structure of our system is maintained so that when revenues are replenished, we can go back to offering the services and the education that we did before.”
This back-to-the-wall analysis was prompted by the latest report on tax collections. The state took in $15 million less in October than it had projected. That brought the shortfall to $82 million since July. Next week the economists who project state income long range will issue their findings, which are expected to be pessimistic. No one is expecting a turnaround anytime soon.
To follow up, Gov. Parkinson will be doing legislators and the people of Kansas a favor if he gets specific. Ed Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University, gave him clues. He said the state’s tax structure needs a top-to-bottom revision. He would start by eliminating sales tax exemptions. As an educator he pointed out that deeper budget cuts would pressure universities to increase fees and tuition, but might also have to reduce enrollment in order to stay within re-duced budgets.
“I don’t want Kansans to have to leave to get a quality education,” Hammond said to Hanna.
He could have added that increasing costs for students and their families would also make it more and more difficult for those with low and moderate incomes to get the educations they need to make better lives for themselves.
But Gov. Parkinson is making a practical rather than a philosophical argument. When budget cuts get so deep that it is necessary to eliminate departments or functions, then recovery requires rebuilding from scratch. If, to use President Hammond’s example, the regents universities must turn away students because they no longer can hire the needed faculty or cover operating expenses for a greater number, fundamental damage will be done.
The same is true for the other services the state provides. Reductions in Medicaid and children’s health services programs would be compounded by a loss of federal matching funds, for example.
Sen. Jay Emler of Lindsborg and Rep. Kevin Yoder of Overland Park, chairmen of the budget committees in their legislative body, said the state should cut spending, eliminating relatively low-priority programs rather than increase taxes.
“We can’t afford the same level of government that we could two years ago,” Yoder said to Hanna. “That’s just the economic reality.”

NO, THE REALITY is that we can and we should afford to provide a quality education from pre-school through graduate school for the men and women who will be running Kansas tomorrow — and who depend upon the wisdom and sense of values shown by Yoder, Emler and their fellow lawmakers to provide them the opportunity to be well prepared to perform that responsibility.
The shortfall in October’s tax collections was about 3.6 percent, according to the state Department of Revenue.
To meet the challenge posed by the recession, lawmakers must raise income only a matter of pennies on the dollar. As Hammond pointed out, eliminating exemptions would be a good start. And that should be supplemented with a fraction of a penny increase in the sales tax accompanied by increased aid to low income families.
Increases in the estate tax and the upper brackets of the personal income tax could make up the rest. The amount of additional income re-quired to fully fund the universities and the public schools amounts to such a modest percentage of current tax revenue that it could be raised with small adjustments to the overall tax structure.
What is most needed in the halls of the Kansas Capitol is a change in attitude. Rather than starting from the assumption that Kansas government must go backward, Yoder, Emler and Co. should wake up tomorrow morning de-termined to create the best combination of tax adjustments their keen minds can craft to meet the basic needs of Kansans.
That is what their oath of office requires of them.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.