May 25, 2024

Governor’s Column: Fiscal responsibility critical to rebuilding Kansas

(Courtesy of Governor Laura Kelly)

Just two short years ago, the State of Kansas found itself on the brink of financial disaster. Even after depleting state savings and enduring multiple rounds of devastating budget cuts, unsustainable tax policy continued to perpetuate fiscal crisis. We saw schools close and class sizes grow. We saw an overwhelmed child welfare system let children fall through the cracks. And despite promises of immediate prosperity, Kansas routinely ranked among the nation’s worst in multiple economic indicators.

As the budget hole continued to grow, the legislature passed two sales tax increases, swept more than $2 billion from the state highway fund, delayed numerous payments to the state pension system, accumulated historic levels of debt, and raided every critical investment from early childhood education to public safety. But in the end, none of these short-term band aids could stem the bleeding caused by the reckless Brownback tax experiment. In November of 2016, Kansans called for change.

The very next year, the state hit “reset” in a historic act of bipartisanship with the passage of comprehensive tax reform. Our credit score improved within a week. The number of Kansans participating in the labor force increased for the first time since 2014.

We have only just started the rebuilding process. Our recovery is uncertain; our budget is fragile. The State of Kansas cannot afford to make a U-turn now.

Senate Bill 22 – another reckless tax plan – would absolutely dismantle all the progress we’ve made. It would throw our state once again into a self-inflicted budget crisis, diminishing all the investments we’ve worked so hard to rebuild and restore. It would put our future at risk once again in order to give significant tax breaks to entities who need them the least, while continuing to leave working families behind.

I share Kansas lawmakers’ desire to keep the state tax burden as low as possible and that will continue to be a priority. In January, I presented a structurally balanced budget that funded our schools and roads, reduced state debt, left Kansas with the largest ending balance in 20 years and did so all without a tax increase.

I was a math major. This is about basic math. My budget proposal left a healthy, fiscally responsible ending balance. If I had signed Senate Bill 22, the budget that just passed the Senate would fall to more than $600 million in the hole within two years.

That is unacceptable. That is irresponsible.

We must be patient, thoughtful, and prudent as we evaluate tax policy. And, when we move forward with sustainable, commonsense tax relief, we must ensure that it benefits the Kansans who need it the most. We will focus on reducing the sales tax on food and providing real tax relief to working families.

The people of Kansas elected me to rebuild our state. They elected me to bring fiscally conservative and responsible principles back to our government. And I refuse to endorse another round of fiscally reckless policies – similar to the Brownback tax experiment – that left our state in shambles and our families struggling.

I commit to you – the people of Kansas – that I will stabilize our state’s budget, invest in our shared priorities, and continue the recovery we have all fought so hard to begin. By following through on this commitment, our state has every reason to expect a bright and successful future.