14 March 2022 | Tax and Budget

TABOR-like Resolution Must Be Rejected in Kansas

Emily Fetsch
March 14, 2022

The Kansas Senate is proposing (yet another) constitutional amendment this session. Similar to the Colorado policy known as the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” or TABOR, this measure would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to limit the ability of lawmakers to create new or raise current, taxes.

This resolution (SCR 1620) requires two-thirds of both the House and Senate to vote in favor; if the measure passes both chambers, the constitutional amendment would be put on the November General Election ballot for voters to approve or disapprove. To pass on the ballot, only a simple majority of 50.1% or more is required.

TABOR ties lawmakers' hands, potentially forcing drastic cuts to important state services that families and businesses rely on.

Kansas has been here before and learned the painful lesson that cutting taxes does not equal economic growth. Our state needs tax policy that can fulfill its obligations to its residents, to fund the services necessary to promote economic growth and the priorities that contribute to a thriving community. This proposal would make it harder for the state to meet its financial obligations to its residents in a variety of areas, including education, infrastructure, public safety, water and agricultural protections, and other things that help our communities thrive.

TABOR does nothing to make government run more efficiently or ensure that tax dollars are well spent.

Colorado was the first state to implement TABOR, and it has been disastrous for the state’s economy and quality of life. According to the Tax Policy Center, 113 rural school districts operate under a four-day week due to the state’s inability to pass an override for funding. Not only did TABOR contribute to declines in K-12 education funding, but higher education funding and public health programs as well. Business leaders in Colorado have pushed to end TABOR due to their concern that the lack of investment will thwart economic growth.

Kansas knows first-hand how harmful inefficient education funding is for our public schools and our kids. If TABOR had been in place in the last five years, it would have been even more difficult to overturn former Gov. Brownback’s “tax experiment,” which resulted in dangerously low education funding and cuts to family support programs. Since then, our state has worked hard to increase school funding so all Kansas kids have the opportunity to receive an adequate and equitable education.

TABOR would harm Kansans, especially lower-income families and communities of color.

This proposal will continue to hold back communities of color through the likelihood of future inadequate revenues and subsequent cuts to vital public services. Due to historical decisions that are baked into current systems, communities of color tend to have weaker economic positions and “may be less able to raise local revenue to make up for limited state revenue.”

Additionally, if tax limitations are in place when more money is needed (for example, for the next recession), the income tax will be effectively off-limits. As a result, more regressive taxes (along with fines and fees) will increase. These revenue-raising options will disproportionately target low- and middle-income Kansans while favoring the wealthiest in our state.

TABOR will make it harder to respond quickly and effectively in the next crisis.

The last two years have shown us how vital it is that the state can respond quickly and not be burdened by administrative red tape. TABOR-like bills limit the choices we can make as a state. A constitutional amendment will make it difficult for lawmakers to respond to constituent needs and honor the democratic process. Current lawmakers are not the only ones impacted; this policy would tie the hands of future lawmakers and make it harder for them to make choices in the best interests of the state.

We have long advocated for responsible fiscal policy, including paying down debt and funding the Budget Stabilization Fund. However, we reject the suggestion that the only way to make progress in those areas is through policy proposals like these. If this resolution passes, it will bind the hands of lawmakers to respond to economic downturns and could spell disaster for the state. Make no mistake, the passage of this resolution will lead our state, once again, to choose between painful budget cuts, which will hurt all Kansas residents, or implementing a responsive tax policy. Kansas doesn’t need to be the laboratory for another damaging fiscal experiment.

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