Friday, October 24, 2014

HAWVER: Voting? Ask about state finances

By MARTIN HAWVER, At the Rail | 7/21/2014

Don’t look for it on any of the palm cards you find wedged into your screen door, but when all the campaigning and voting is over, whoever makes it to the Kansas House next session is going to be faced with ugly choices about cutting spending or raising taxes.

Yes, regardless of whoever winds up being governor, it still very seriously just comes down to balancing the state budget. That’s Job No. 1, and while there are still Renewable Power Standards and guns and abortion and education, it is still all about the budget.

Don’t look for it on any of the palm cards you find wedged into your screen door, but when all the campaigning and voting is over, whoever makes it to the Kansas House next session is going to be faced with ugly choices about cutting spending or raising taxes.

Yes, regardless of whoever winds up being governor, it still very seriously just comes down to balancing the state budget. That’s Job No. 1, and while there are still Renewable Power Standards and guns and abortion and education, it is still all about the budget.

Kansas had $434.6 million in the bank when last fiscal year ended, yet most of that balance is going to be eaten up this year. Whether that balance gets to zero next June or before is still a guessing game. But the state is going to need new tax revenues or it’s going to have to cut spending on virtually everything it spends money on ranging from education to social services to just keeping the agencies running.

So far, likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis is saying that the next couple years of scheduled state income tax reductions need to be halted. No, that’s not increasing taxes, it’s just not doing the cuts that are on schedule and which nobody has filled out their tax forms to claim yet.

Gov. Sam Brownback is quiet on what to do, if anything. Why talk about anything that is — what’s the word? Unpleasant? — until after the election. Until the budget busts, or he is officially notified of a projected ending balance of less than $100 million, nothing absolutely, positively needs to be done. He’s on board with that.

But, whoever gets to be governor, it’s going to take votes in the Senate and the House to cut spending or raise taxes or find some way for the state to hold its fiscal breath.

Oh, and the Kansas Supreme Court, which has a school finance lawsuit to deal with, has only dealt with the cheap ($130 million) part — equalizing state aid for schools — not the big issue of deciding whether the state is spending enough on schools to produce students who will be smart enough to spur the Kansas economy and support themselves.

That’s the mess the new Legislature, and those brand-new House members who make it to the Statehouse in January, are going to have to deal with.

Once they’re in Topeka, and their new business cards and stationery have been printed, it gets ugly. That talk on your doorstep about efficiency and small government gets put to the test.

It sorta makes that “I’ll represent your values” stuff a little shaky, unless you hand the candidate back a list of state taxes that could take a bit of an increase. Or maybe some state services that you think you can do without ... and that means absolutely do without, not just delegate to local units of government to undertake at the cost of higher property taxes or fees.

Now, if your primary interest in state government is naming a piece of highway after a notable local official or fighting the federal government over anything ranging from gun laws to the fate of the lesser prairie chicken, it shouldn’t be too tough to make a choice for your elected representative.

But if you intend to live in Kansas for the next couple years, it probably ought to be fiscal issues you want answers — probably detailed answers — to, and whether to provide the level of services that you want means taxes are in play. Are you one of those 190,000 Kansans who aren’t paying state income tax anymore? Feel comfortable with that? Then what can you or your neighbors do without?

Or are you seeing the state do things that it just doesn’t need to do? Does that overpass or that bridge look good enough for now? Figure that kids made their way to school before there were those yellow buses?

There’s an easy way to vote, and one a little harder. This might be the year for that.

Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report. Visit his website at www.hawvernews.com

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