(Syndicated to Kansas newspapers May 20, 2013)
Look very politically strategically at the Kansas Legislature fighting its way to adjournment this week or maybe early next week…and you are looking at a real test of Republican voters in primary elections in August 2014.
It’s either continuing the State General Fund’s share of the penny sales tax that is to expire on June 30, or letting the tax expire as dozens of Republican office-seekers promised at the last election, and see what happens.
The governor and leaders of the Senate maintain that if the state reduces income taxes—paid for in part by the continuation of the sales tax—more businesses will start up or come to Kansas, more Kansans will get good jobs and spend more money on “consumption” or sales taxable items.
It’s that simple, if you buy the premise, you buy the outcome, and five months into the first tax year in which income taxes have fallen, it’s too early to tell. Might work, might not work, but five months isn’t long enough to know. Maybe two or three years will tell the story, but not five months.
The problem is that there’s a state government and services to Kansans to be financed while that economic growth experiment either works or doesn’t.
That’s the test of the Republican Party. Democrats are convinced that the experiment won’t work. Republicans, or at least the administration and the leadership of the Senate, believe it will work. But…they’re not willing to put a deadline on the experiment. Say, three more years of the sales tax and we’ll know whether this growth-through-elimination-of income taxes works. Nope. No interest in setting a time limit on the test.
While this test is working itself out, the state is going to see a reduction in revenues and less money to spend on higher education, on technical education, on elementary and secondary education, on roads and social services.
Those cuts that will be necessary become a test of whether the Republican-dominated Legislature can keep those shrinking-revenue-forced cuts from becoming noticeable to Republican primary election voters. It’s those GOP primary voters who essentially decide who is going to dominate the Legislature and sit in the governor’s chair in most of Kansas.
So, it’s the state’s Democrats and certain Republicans—both those who aren’t sure the economic experiment will succeed and those who have pledged not to raise taxes anyhow—who will call the shots. The votes to show whether Democrats and questioning Republicans can stop this experiment haven’t been tested yet. No sales tax continuation, and the budget tanks, which means next session—uncomfortably an election year—the budget and cuts to income tax have to be fixed, or the state has to make dramatic cuts to social, educational and other services.
If the sales tax continues? Then there’s a chance for the experiment to at least play out, whatever you think its chances are.
And what happens to the “fixers,” successful or not, if this experiment is canceled?
The August 2014 primary elections will tell us.