Editorial: The Kansas "Hangover"

By Karl Peterjohn

Executive Director of the

Kansas Taxpayers Network

"After the binge comes the headache," thus begins an incredibly incisive editorial on state finance that appeared in the December 18, 2001 Wall Street Journal, "That’s the reality state governments are now facing as the slow economy pinches their budgets after a decade of high living, er, spending. Voters are now going to get a chance to separate the profligate from the genuine fiscal conservatives." The journal did not specifically mention Kansas in listing all of the states that had gone on a spending spree but Kansas is one of forty with major fiscal problems as the economic recession deepens. Last year according to the Kansas Public Policy Institute state spending grew 5.2 percent or roughly $230 million as measured in fiscal year 2001.

The journal went on with a paragraph that could have been printed on the editorial page of any Kansas newspaper, "More than 40 states are reporting budget woes, and no wonder. For a decade state politicians lived it up like the Great Gatsby." Gee, could that description include Kansas with a newly re-modeled governor’s mansion, new state plane, new office buildings, underground tunnels and parking garages in Topeka?

"Even last year, with the slowdown obvious, the majority of states raised spending by more than 5%, about double the rate of inflation. It’s no wonder that families now pay almost twice as much of their income to states and localities as they did in 1960." The journal goes on to cite a national study showing that if states had kept their spending growth limited to personal income there would have been enough to provide a $400 tax cut for every family. Both political parties holding high state office have often been guilty of these financial transgressions against the taxpayers and common sense. Fortunately, there have been some fiscally responsible exceptions, but Kansas is not an example.

Today the dominant liberal Kansas news media is in full cry for higher state spending and taxes. The Kansas City Star recently blasted legislators who would not increase state spending on the government school system, "The Kansas Legislature should increase funding for teacher pay. Overall, the state’s K-12 teachers’ salaries are nearly $7,000 below the national average....These statistics are a crime in a state where education is highly valued, as it historically has been in Kansas. They are an unfortunate result of tax-cutting lawmakers..." Sadly, the Star cannot document evidence of their $7,000 assertion which was actually contradicted in an article published in their sister publication, the Wichita Eagle January 14,

2001. The attack on "tax cutting lawmakers," is ridiculous in light of the soaring property taxes coming from rising local mill levies and soaring appraisals controlled by the state this year.

The Star was joined in advocating bigger state government. The Hutchinson News editorialized, "...the state’s economic woes could last longer or cut deeper than if the governor and legislators would consider rolling back some of the $250 million in tax cuts implemented less than four years ago." The News ought to consider rolling back the statewide tax hikes implemented since 1999 on gasoline, petroleum fuels, numerous state fees, soaring tax appraisals, and higher insurance taxes.

Higher taxes in a recession are a good way to create an economic depression.

Herbert Hoover went down this path after the 1929 market crash and the Hutchinson News wants us to repeat this egregious mistake. The reliably liberal Iola Register joined the Kansas chorus for higher taxes, "This year’s modest slowdown demonstrates beyond argument that those (tax) cuts were too deep—and provides all the justification needed to raise taxes..."

Instead of raising taxes Kansas needs leadership. We don’t need a governor who refuses to make a serious budget proposal and then incredibly promises to veto his own budget if the legislature happens to take him seriously and approves his recommendation. This behavior is a political oxymoron. Kansas needs fiscally responsible leadership that will look at a current year budget recision to reduce this year’s spending growth. After all, Kansas saved roughly $100 million with a recision in fiscal year 2000. We also need a state hiring and spending freeze next year. We need fewer pork barrel projects in Kansas. We need to become competitive on taxes to prevent even more businesses from leaving this state and taking their jobs with them. Kansas faces some major challenges but we need leadership. The Wall Street Journal ended their editorial by saying, "...if surpluses aren’t returned in tax cuts, the politicians will spend them and then during hard economic times they will claim the only solution is to raise taxes again.....The best way to avoid a hangover is not get drunk in the first place." Kansas clearly needs some fiscal prohibition and avoid the 100 proof tax hike.