Opinion column: Legislature approves budget

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Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

It took 113 days, but the Kansas Legislature finally passed a budget measure Saturday, June 10, that will help fund an estimated $900 million hole in the next two years’ state budgets. It will also add $488 million to school funding during the next two years.

These were two of the facts that members of the Legislative Committee learned last Friday morning, June 9, as they met at the Kansas City, Kansas, Area Chamber of Commerce office for their monthly briefing.

Kathy Damron, the lobbyist for the chamber, said it was a long and very tiring session. Two of the members of the chamber’s committee, David Smith, lobbyist for the Kansas City, Kansas, School District, and Mike Taylor, lobbyist for Unified Government, agreed that the session this year was exhausting.

The additional money to fill the budget hole and to fund schools will come primarily from two sources—individual income taxes and elimination of the “LLC Loophole” that exempts some 300,000 Kansas business owners from paying income tax. Gov. Sam Brownback had proposed the exemption that passed in 2012. It was supposed to generate a substantial amount of new business with many new employees; that didn’t materialize. Instead, many of the state’s basic services suffered, including law enforcement and mental health services. Tax revenue did not increase as predicted.

In Gov. Brownback’s defense, major industries in the state, including agriculture, gas and oil and aviation, have suffered in the past few years. Had these industries prospered, Brownback’s tax plan might have worked.

The Kansas Supreme Court will have to approve the additional school funding and the distribution formula. According to Smith, the Kansas City, Kansas, School District presently receives about $139 million in state aid. The new appropriation formula would provide about $9 million in additional state funds.

The Legislature approved the provision for sales tax bonds through 2020. That legislation is what helped finance Village West development, paying for infrastructure such as streets and sewers. It would also be used to develop the new home of the American Royal and ancillary developments.

This probably means that Kansans will be paying more taxes than ever before. Unfortunately, bad fiscal management during the past few years caused state finances to suffer. The state was forced to “borrow” money from highway funds to balance its budget.

No one likes a tax increase. But a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats, including those from Wyandotte County, stepped forward to take the necessary action to help solve state finances. Basic services, including education, law enforcement and mental health services, were at risk.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.

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