Our state gov’t could use lesson from Kansas

People of Pennsylvania don’t pay attention to financial challenges affecting the state of Kansas. After all, this commonwealth has more than enough financial headaches of its own.

But it’s a good time for Keystone State residents — and their state lawmakers — to look westward, in response to what happened in Kansas on June 6.

On that day, the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature overrode GOP Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a bill aimed at ending an exemption on certain taxation affecting farmers and small business owners.

According to a June 8 Wall Street Journal article, it was an exemption that Brownback had championed as a red-state model of tax cuts that purportedly would spur economic growth.

Trouble is, while the exemption did attract some people and businesses to Kansas from surrounding states during the years of the tax cuts, the full positive effect that Brownback had envisioned didn’t come to pass, opening the proverbial window for what currently is an $889 million budget gap that was projected to only get worse.

The Kansas Legislature had a decision to make, whether to merely hope for the best — a legislative response common in this state — or to take decisive action.

To their credit, Kansas lawmakers opted for bold action to prevent that state’s precarious financial situation from becoming much worse.

Their vote to end the tax exemption means that Kansas farmers and small business owners will begin paying a tax rate of up to 5.7 percent, going forward. In addition, a top tax bracket is being reinstated, and rates are being lifted on two lower brackets.

The Journal report said the action is projected to raise $1.2 billion over two years and close the state’s shortfall over the same period.

In addition, the action also will bring in more money for a court-ordered increase in public-school funding.

Readers of this editorial need to realize that this comment on the Kansas experience isn’t an endorsement for higher taxes for Pennsylvania farmers and small businesses.

It’s merely to call attention to the need for courage by Pennsylvania lawmakers to finally begin making bold decisions to put a significant dent in this state’s $3 billion deficit.

Unfortunately, the prospects for real progress seem slim, with tax increases supposedly off the table; additional gambling revenue on the table, but perhaps not as much as anticipated; and streamlining of state government, although also on the table, probably capable of producing only a fraction of the money benefits projected.

This state has endured a decade or more of budget-preparation charades that held little or no hope of getting the commonwealth’s fiscal situation under control — and state residents allowed themselves to be duped into thinking all would fall into place and then “full speed ahead.”

But every year that those charades have persisted — every year that reality hasn’t superseded irresponsible, feel-good politics — state taxpayers have moved closer to a time of fiscal reckoning that won’t be easy to navigate

Politics and political loyalty were cast aside in Kansas, and that state’s fiscal prospects now seem brighter. However, the big question is whether Pennsylvania is capable of doing the same, even if on a much more limited scale.

Based on the past, Pennsylvania residents have big cause for pessimism.