Last week Kansas Senator John Vratil, a Leawood Republican who is Vice-President of the Senate, sent a letter to constituents asking for feedback on how to generate more revenue for Kansas state government.
The letter states “The Senate Ways and Means Committee has worked hard to cut ‘the fat’ out of state government while striving to hold education harmless.” The letter notes that the Kansas general fund budget is now $5.4 billion, and that education and required social services amount to $4.6 billion of that.
Vratil promotes the tax on drinks sweetened with sugar, which would add about ten cents to the cost of a 12 ounce can of pop. Vratil says the tax would raise an estimated $90 million in revenue per year.
The Senate leadership — Vratil being part of that — has already announced plans to push for a tax increase.
Other Republican senators may be jumping on the tax bandwagon, too. Last week Senator Les Donovan, a Wichita Republican and chairman of the Assessment and Taxation Committee, said during a committee hearing: “We have to do something on the revenue side. … We don’t know if we can cut enough spending.” He said that if we can’t cut spending, “we’re going to do something to raise some revenue, some way.”
(Today Donovan proposed increasing the state sales tax rate by 0.7 percentage points, removing the sales tax from food in three years. He will also propose increases on taxes for cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, and soft drinks sweetened with sugar. The increase in the sales tax is a 13.2% increase in the rate.)
On a Kansas conservative message board, one poster expressed support for a soda tax, saying that people could avoid the tax by not purchasing soda. Another poster disagreed, calling the soda tax “another area of government encroachment on our decisions,” concluding that “Unfortunately, the senators are not looking out for the health of Kansans as much as looking to get more of the wealth of Kansans.”
Another poster contended that Vratil’s assertion of Kansas already “cutting the agencies to the bone” is an overstatement of the cuts, and that there’s plenty of slack in state employment and management practices. Specifically,
The false premise being presented by Sen. Vratil is that all the agencies and departments that are recipients of government money are cut to the “bone.” Really? What these folks consider a “bone” many of us would still see as filet mignon.
We have to start here. There is no doubt that on any budget your employees are your greatest cost, but the real question is is there a necessity for all those employees? We have layers of bureaucracy that are costing us a fortune. We have managers managing managers and departments created as political payback for years of campaign support. Public service unions are dictating the state budget rather than “best business” practices. Now before I have all the folks who are state employees cursing me, let me stress that my comments are not directed at those who are working hard every day and giving their best to their employers. I am making my assertions on personal information and experience that I have observed for years. The public service unions handcuff managers from releasing poor performers on a daily basis. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that departments could run with 80% less staff and not a single tax payer would know the difference. I am sympathetic to folks losing their jobs, but when did it become the taxpayers responsibility to ensure employment for our neighbors? I would rather ensure that they have job opportunities from the private sector. Those opportunities will continue to diminish with the type of tax-and-spend practices that are currently directing the state budget.
Another poster wondered how a tax on soda would decrease consumption of what’s deemed an “undesirable” product, while a general sales tax would not produce the same effect on all goods:
Has anyone ever asked Mr. Morris or Vratil or any other tax hike supporter how they can claim a tax on soda will make us all healthier because we’ll stop buying as much, but then claim an across the board 1% sales tax isn’t supposed to hurt the economy at all? If a tax on soda or cigarettes or alcohol is enough to decrease consumption, doesn’t it stand to reason that an across the board sales tax increase would have the same effect? Have these legislators ever been challenged about this blatant contradiction?
With moderate and even some conservative Republicans proposing tax increases, it’s going to be a tough battle for senate Republicans to hold the line on taxes.