Sam Williams, the former mayoral candidate from Wichita who now heads the state’s Department of Revenue, has sent out a column of old worn half-truths and falsehoods that too many editors have dutifully published, probably because the man, unknown as he is, now has a title that rings of importance.
No doubt tutored heavily, Williams has embarked on a feeble campaign to malign the Kansas legislature for snatching the state back from the abyss of bankruptcy. He begins by discussing a “$1.2 billion tax increase” recently approved by the legislature as though it were a virus, ebola taxation destined to infect the bank accounts and business ledgers of all Kansans. His column takes a fatherly, advisory tone with warnings to make sure the infection is stilled; he warns of new tax withholding tables for employers, of retroactive levies. “Additionally, I recommend talking to your tax preparer to ensure the additional money withheld is sufficient to address the increased amount you owe under the legislature’s new law.”
It’s as though the new law were nuclear, and citizens should prepare to duck and cover.
In fact, the legislation is less a tax increase than a tax recovery. It reinstates a three-bracket income tax and re-starts a flow of reasonable funding for local schools. It was an historic accomplishment, one that pulls Kansas from a fall into bankruptcy, the shuttering of its educational system and the starvation of social services; in the nick of time we were spared more of the governor’s ruinous “Glide Path to Zero” income taxes for the wealthy, for favored farms and businesses.
The recovery reverses the catastrophic tax cuts five years ago that bled the treasury dry, left the state with a billion-dollar operating deficit and an emaciated highway fund. Meanwhile the state suffered three credit downgrades; a state hospital lost $1 million every month in federal aid because it was not funded adequately. Local schools were wretchedly underfinanced, the funding formula left vacant. Colleges and universities were starved, left with outlandish tuition increases; teachers, administrators and professors were fleeing the state for ones that welcomed educators, not demeaned them. Local hospitals and clinics were shuttered or on life support for lack of funding. The list went on, all of it due to those tax cuts. Not even the diversion of a massive sales tax increase (2015) could stem the red ink.
Williams mentions the state’s life-saving tax recovery as though it were venom, the “largest tax increase in history,” one that “funds more than $200 million in new spending…” (It’s old spending, re-started.)
Williams’ anti-tax screed, foamed up in the guise of friendly advice from the revenue secretary, is a festering disservice to the citizenry. The legislature did nothing more than re-start the revenue stream that had been shut off a half-decade ago. This will barely cover the largest tax cuts in history, the ones that have left this state withered and gasping. We’re only returning to five years ago, and we have already lost a decade of competitive edge across the public and private sector; in the end, people don’t want to come to a place that’s let itself go, that has missing teeth, a vacant smile, a place gone to seed. We were nearly there.
It may sound good to rail on about the evils of taxing and spending, those big hits so popuilar on campaign folders. But Kansas has learned firsthand that it’s one thing to vote for a place with no taxes, and quite another to live in one.