Kansas Republicans have finally passed their nearly $400 million tax hike on the state's working class to make up for the hundreds of millions in the hole that GOP Gov. Sam Brownback's tax cut for the rich and businesses created, in an effort to avoid even more draconian cuts to schools and universities.
Kansas will avoid massive budget cuts after a tax plan crawled to passage in the Legislature on Friday, but some lawmakers who voted for the plan say the state has failed to right its financial ship.
Many lawmakers — including ones who supported the bills — accused Gov. Sam Brownback of bullying lawmakers into accepting a flawed plan.
Republicans, who hold supermajorities in the Kansas House and Senate, found themselves bitterly divided on taxes for weeks in the face of a $400 million budget hole as the legislative session stretched to 113 days, the longest in state history.
The House scraped together the 63 votes needed for passage at 4 a.m. Friday, passing a plan that raises $384.4 million in tax revenue, after working around the clock since Wednesday night. Several lawmakers who voted for the plan were moved to tears before Rep. Blake Carpenter, a Derby Republican, cast the deciding vote.
Little more than 12 hours later, the Senate approved the plan with 21 votes, again the bare minimum for passage, after an emotional debate. But even some lawmakers who voted in favor of the plan argued that it failed to address the cause of the state’s financial woes.
Sen. Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican, accused the Brownback administration of perpetrating “political blackmail” in recent weeks by threatening to veto any plan that rolled back an income tax exemption for certain businesses. That exception was passed in 2012 and removed more than 330,000 business owners from income tax rolls.
“This fix doesn’t fix the problem,” Longbine said. “If you’ve got congestive heart failure, you go to the cardiologist and not the dentist.”
The 2012 tax bill also eliminated the top tax bracket and cut all income tax rates. Longbine pointed out that it has already cost the state more than $1 billion, but argued that the plan passed by the Legislature through a pair of tax bills Friday failed to address that impact.
The measures will instead raise the sales tax to 6.5 percent from 6.15 percent in July and hike taxes on cigarettes by 50 cents per pack to help balance the state’s budget.
Longbine said he wanted to watch the plan burn but voted in favor of it to prevent cuts to the state’s schools, universities and disability services.
Brownback had warned that if lawmakers did not pass a tax plan before Monday, then he would make massive budget cuts — either issuing a 6.2 percent across-the-board cut costing schools nearly $200 million, or line-item vetoes of budgets for the state’s regents universities.
The Kansas disaster continues, and I'm betting that the hike in sales and vice taxes, a regressive taxation scheme targeting the poor and working class, won't bring in the projected revenue just as the massive tax cuts on the wealthy didn't magically create new revenue either. Somehow I bet Topeka will be right back in the same hole soon, and when it does, raising taxes on those who can afford it the least won't work.
But this is what happens when you give the GOP total control of a state: guaranteed absolute fiscal disaster. The Nation's Kai Wright looks at the people who are suffering in Kansas under the Brownback administration, like RaDonna Kuekelhan and her sister Cathy O'Mara.
The sisters drove 30 miles from Cathy’s house down to the nearest CHC clinic, in Montgomery County’s largest town, Coffeyville. There, they met Julie Griffin, the doctor in charge. Griffin is also an evangelical minister, and as with many of the people I met in socially conservative southeast Kansas, Brownback’s politics force a tension in her core values. She’s resolutely pro-life and supports Brownback for his famously firm stance against abortion. But for her, valuing life means valuing universal access to healthcare, too. And she blames southeast Kansas’ ailing health on a toxic mix of poverty and political neglect.
“If you can’t find a job, you can’t feed your kids, you don’t feel like there’s any help for your kid in terms of success, that’s going to affect your mental health,” she says in a typically energetic riff about the challenges her patients face. “And if you don’t take care of your mental health, then your diabetes is going to be a thousand times worse.” She says much of her work is a matter of convincing patients to fight for their own lives, despite the dearth of care. She can call the roll of uninsured patients she’s coaxed away from preventable death, only to have them tumble back to grave illness when they grow defeated because she’s run out of subsidized meds or can’t connect them with a free specialist: “People that didn’t want to take care of their diabetes because there’s no hope anyways.”
Griffin immediately saw this grim potential in RaDonna and began scrambling. She sent the sisters on a 65-mile trek over the border to Joplin, Missouri, where she found specialists at a private hospital who would see RaDonna without insurance. “We went there for a year, back and forth,” RaDonna says. “We went to a throat doctor, went to a lung specialist, a stomach guy,” Cathy chimes in. Finally, they discovered the problem: All that radiation to clear RaDonna’s larynx cancer had destroyed her esophagus.
“The top of her throat is paralyzed,” Cathy explains. “Everything that she puts into her mouth and swallows, some of it aspirates down into her lungs. They told me that she is ‘terminal’—that was their words to me. ‘Your sister is terminal. We don’t know how long she will live. She will either slowly starve to death or she will aspirate and choke to death.’”
RaDonna was too young to collect Social Security, and she was trying to survive on a $231-a-month pension from Emerson. Despite her diagnosis and collapsing income, as a single adult she still didn’t qualify for Medicaid. The only way into Kansas’ program was to qualify for disability—and in 2013 the state rejected her application. “They denied it,” says Cathy, still angry. “They said she was not ill enough.”
Kansas is red state America at its finest: rejection of Obamacare grant money, full privatization of the state's Medicare program, massive tax cuts for "job creators" and budget cuts to get rid of "unnecessary spending", with a Republican supermajority in the state legislature and a GOP governor.
The results speak for themselves, don't you think?