Well, we got last week the Consensus Revenue Estimate (CRE) for the upcoming two years of government in Kansas, and it was so low-key that you could have worn the same shirt the next day. No excitement.
That CRE, assembled by a group of state fiscal experts and university economics professors, predicts the state is going to take in about $15 million more in the next two years than most of us thought. Oh, there was good news in that the tiny predicted increases of money for the state to spend came after the Legislature and governor had spent $115 million this spring to repay money borrowed from the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System. So, the estimate on which the budget will be crafted reflects spending that most would consider reasonable.
But…there was no excitement. For a Legislature that stands for reelection next year it wasn’t bad news—no tax increases needed to keep the Statehouse doors open—but also not enough increase in revenues to support much of a tax cut for those Kansans who will vote next fall on whether to send their legislator back to indoor parking, drinks and meals from lobbyists and, oh yes…running state government.
Practically, that CRE means that there isn’t any real need for a tax increase—except maybe taxing some of that neat stuff you buy over the Internet and wait two days to be delivered. That’s almost a freebie. Sales-tax that Internet stuff like you tax the sales at brick and mortar stores which sell the same stuff. Doesn’t sound very radical, does it?
The low CRE increase isn’t all bad news. It might actually have the effect of finally spending some money on things like, well, K-12 finance, on social workers and prison guards and those social policies that don’t show up for all of us, but which make the state a better place to live and maybe provide better lives for those who live here.
That isn’t the sort of policy/spending that leads to exciting discussions at the screen door between candidates and voters, or that leads to fascinating palm cards to hand out, but it probably means that lawmakers get to spend time concentrating on better management, more effective programs and a more businesslike government.
So, what’s possible with the meager increase in state revenues?
Look for some little tax cuts, specifically targeted to improve lives. Not the $130 million that corporations wanted. When there’s not much money to spend, lawmakers tend to focus on voters, not corporations.
And with not much money for tax cuts, that mostly-for-show one percent cut in the sales tax on food likely will be thought through a little better than what was mostly decoration on the tax cut bill vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly. Remember that? As icing on the corporate/upper-middle class tax reduction bill, lawmakers cut the sales tax on groceries by a penny on the dollar. Spend $10 at the grocery store? You save a dime. Not exactly the way to see Kansans better finance their rent or car payments or kids’ school clothes, is it? There are surely better ways to help the poor than with pocket change that won’t even buy a candy bar.
Nope, no excitement from the revenue estimate. Sorta like catching your car door before it swings out and bangs the other car. But there’s a dab of money there and while it will take a little longer to explain, those social programs, health care, prison guards, pre-school education for children all pay off as good investments.
Just not very flashy.
By Martin Hawver
Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit the website at www.hawvernews.com