I usually don’t write about Kansas government because it’s 1) so ridiculous and 2) so boring.
Even this clown show that Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature have engaged in since the Legislature drastically cut income taxes four years ago is boring.
But now it’s gone well beyond ridiculous and boring, to the point of being maddening and outrageous. Because what the governor and Legislature are in the process of doing — if the House today approves what the Senate did on Sunday — is substituting $187 million worth of new sales taxes for a like amount of wiped-out income taxes.
Income taxes are the gold standard of taxation: you pay in direct proportion to your income. They are closely followed by property taxes: you pay, essentially, on the basis of the size of your house and the neighborhood you live in.
The worst and most regressive tax is the sales tax. It hits hardest at those who are least able to afford it.
…In the last two years I have been closely involved in efforts to defeat two sales-tax proposals in Missouri. The first was in 2013 when Jackson County proposed a half-cent sales tax for “translational medical research.” It was the most bogus proposition I had seen in 40 years in Kansas City, and it went down to an 86 percent to 14 percent thrashing, perhaps the largest margin of defeat for any measure in county history.
Then, last year, I collaborated with a campaign committee based in St. Louis to help defeat a proposed three-quarter-cent sales-tax increase for the state transportation department. Had it passed, we average citizens would have had to pay through the nose for better highways, while the trucking industry, which inflicts the vast majority of damage on our highways, would get a pass. Our very effective theme was, “You pay, trucks don’t.”
That proposal came crashing down like a bad bridge — the margin being 59 percent to 41 percent, despite the “concrete cartel” spending several million dollars to try to convince Missouri voters to approve it.
So, in Missouri, we’ve reached a point where it’s pretty clear that voters are very unlikely to approve a sales-tax increase for just about anything.
I’m sure Kansas residents feel the same way and that it would be virtually impossible to put a sales-tax increase on a statewide ballot that voters would approve. I think it’s particularly unlikely that Kansas residents would approve a four-tenths of a cent sales-tax increase to offset the foolish income-tax cuts that Brownback and the Legislature engineered in 2012.
But now it looks like it’s going to happen without a vote of the people.
On Sunday, the Senate voted to increase the sales tax from 6.15 percent to 6.55 percent. The House is probably going to take up the measure today, and if the House also approves the bill, Brownback has said he will sign it into law.
When I was campaigning against the translational medical sales tax, people sometimes asked me to explain what I meant by the sales tax being “regressive.”
Here it is in a nutshell:
If a person with an annual income of $20,000 pays $2,000 in sales taxes per year, the tax amounts to 10 percent of his or her income. If a person with an annual income of $100,000 pays $2,000 in sales taxes, the tax amounts to 2 percent of his or her income.
Now, it stands to reason that someone with the $100,000 income is going to be a bigger consumer than the person with the $20,000 income, but it’s very unlikely the 100-grand person is going to consume five times more than the 20-grand person. Everyone has a lot of basic expenses — food, phones cars, TVs, etc. — and the sales tax hits those in the middle- and lower-income ranges a lot harder than those in the upper reaches.
Remember, too, that the divergence between the haves and the have-nots is continuing to expand and many more people are spiraling into the lower-income ranks all the time. They’re the ones that sales-tax increases kick below the belt.
The sales tax is a tax that only the rich can love. That’s why billionaire St. Louis area resident Rex Sinquefield, president of a think tank called the Show Me Institute, has been spending millions of dollars promoting Missouri candidates who share his determination to lower income and earnings taxes and raise sales taxes.
So far, thank God, he hasn’t been very successful in the Show-Me state. But now I picture him, 250 miles away, smiling broadly at what he sees going on across our state line.
Now, here’s that song you’ve been thinking about since you read the headline on this post…(Note, in particular, the slide whistle — Wheeee!)