28 January 2021 | Tax and budget

RELEASE: To avoid worsening downturn, Kansas must choose tax increases over budget cuts, experts say

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jan. 28, 2021

TOPEKA, Kansas – Today, 40 Kansas experts in economics, public affairs, administration and other fields issued a letter to Gov. Laura Kelly and state legislative leaders with a clear and simple message: In the face of severe economic strain and insufficient federal aid, Kansas must avoid budget cuts and choose tax increases instead.

Based on overwhelmingly clear economic history and research, the experts warn that such cuts would have profound negative consequences for the state.

“Kansas spends most of its budget on health, education, public safety, public transportation, and safety net programs,” they write. “Large cuts in these critical areas would erode the health and infrastructure needed to continue combatting COVID-19, increase an already high level of inequality, and exacerbate the economic downturn.”

The letter was made possible by the Scholars Strategy Network, an organization of university-based scholars committed to using research to improve policy and strengthen democracy.

As the letter points out, Kansas has been through rounds of ill-advised budget cuts before.

The “tax experiment” of former Gov. Sam Brownback brought fiscal catastrophe to Kansas. While the rest of the nation recovered from the Great Recession, our state saw nine rounds of budget cuts. Those in turn led to three credit downgrades and four years of budget shortfalls. Schools ended their years early. Children in the foster care system suffered. Roads went unpaved. Prisons saw riots.

“This time, instead of budget cuts, the state should maintain spending levels for schools, public safety, infrastructure, and health by increasing taxes,” the researchers write. “For example, a modest increase in the income tax rate for Kansans could raise between $120 and $240 million per year, depending on how the income brackets and tax rates are set.”

Emily Fetsch, Kansas Action for Children’s Director of Fiscal Policy, put the choice this way: “Kansas can decide to help children and families and strengthen our state. Or we can decide to pursue the failed policies that led to a lost decade for our state.”

Our state, and its residents, deserve better.

The researchers’ letter can be read here.