If tax cuts are on the horizon; let them be sales and property



December 16, 2019 - 10:06 AM

It doesn’t take prognosticating skill to predict that Kansas Democrats and Republicans will argue about taxes in 2020.

Of course they will. But the 2020 argument should be especially interesting to voters as officials decide not only if tax relief is coming, but who should benefit.

First the state will have to determine whether it can afford to reduce taxes.

There are signs it can, as state revenues have been meeting or surpassing expectations for more than a year. That’s good news after the debacle that was also known as the tenure of Gov. Sam Brownback. 

Brownback and Republicans in the Legislature eliminated income taxes for hundreds of thousands of businesses and farms. They promised tax cuts were a special kind of magic; that they would create more tax revenue, not less.

They were wrong — by about a billion dollars.

Rather than admit his mistake, Brownback made things worse. He ran up the debt. He repeatedly cut funds to schools and virtually every other service and program. With help from the Legislature, he raised sales taxes.

Finally in 2017, even many Republicans balked. They worked with Democrats to restore sanity to the state’s income tax policies.

As a result, Kansas now stands on more stable fiscal ground. 

Still, Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat who took office about a year ago, has made clear that she’s not eager to cut taxes.

Recent revenue reports, however, indicate that Kansas should be able to provide some tax relief.

Kelly knows that, and she has appointed a tax council to recommend changes in Kansas tax policy. 

According to reporting by John Hanna of Associated Press, Kelly and her council seem focused on relief for those who pay sales taxes and property taxes.

But Republican leaders in the Legislature remain insistent about tax relief for businesses and wealthier Kansans. Last year they passed legislation to allow Kansans to maximize their savings from the 2017 federal income tax cuts that mostly benefited businesses and high-income taxpayers. Kelly vetoed the bill.

As Kansas and its legislators ready for the 2020 session, it’s worth comparing Kansas’ tax burden to other states.

In one analysis, WalletHub ranked Kansas 20th among the states for its tax burden. New York was No. 1, with the highest overall tax burden. What’s interesting about the WalletHub ranking is that it examined different kinds of taxes. Kansas ranked 18th in sales taxes, 13th in property taxes and 38th in individual income taxes.

Those rankings don’t provide a good argument for income tax breaks.

A piece in Progressive Farmer found that property taxes for Kansas farmers increased 29.7 percent over five years, based on federal survey data. That was the third highest in the country. And many farmers in the state will tell you that their property taxes have gone up a lot more than that.

When it comes to sales tax, Kansas typically ranks poorly. The burden is especially heavy because Kansas is one of a very few states that taxes groceries at the same rate it taxes other goods. That hits low-income families the hardest.

As it ponders changes to taxes, Kansas should keep in mind such comparisons and rankings. They tell us more about what’s fair and reasonable than complaints from special interests looking for yet another round of income tax breaks.

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