Gov. Sam Brownback (R) will soon sign what he calls the “fabulous package” of sales tax hikes and income tax cuts passed by the Republican-dominated legislature over the weekend. The sales tax rate increase will apply to food as well as other purchases, making it even more targeted at the lower end of the income scale than a similarly regressive North Carolina proposal that would at least exempt groceries and prescription drugs.
The bill continues a trend whereby Brownback and fellow conservatives have shifted the tax burden in the state towards sales and property taxes, which are disproportionately paid by the poor and middle class. Even prior to this legislation, Kansas’ taxes were steeply regressive. A January report from the Institute for Tax & Economic Policy found that the top 1 percent of non-elderly Kansans paid state and local taxes at a rate less than half that faced by the bottom 85 percent of earners.
Brownback’s 2013 measure, which tax experts from both left- and right-leaning think tanks have decried, follows a similarly regressive rewriting of the income tax code in 2012. Last year’s measure included the elimination of a tax rebate program to partially offset the annual cost of sales taxes paid on food. The 2013 legislation restores the rebates, although at lower levels, according to the Kansas City Star.
The dramatic revisions under Brownback haven’t just increased the tax burden for those with the least financial stability. They’ve also worsened the state’s fiscal outlook. Taken together, the 2012 and 2013 tax changes will cost the state $1.1 billion. That lost revenue is already preventing the state from meeting its responsibilities to educate its public school children. In January, the state lost a court case over school funding, with federal judges in the state ruling that its education funding had fallen so low as to be unconstitutional. The judges found the state is falling $440 million short of fulfilling its obligations to students.