Taxes in Kansas at an All-Time High
By Dr. Barry Poulson
At no other time in the state’s history have state and local governments imposed such a heavy tax burden on Kansas residents. This year, state and local taxes will capture 11.2 percent of the state’s income.
The graduated income tax contributes to this all time high by creating a boom of revenue and spending during prosperous economic times. In periods of rapid growth, income tax revenue increases faster than income. Excited by these new funds, legislators increase state spending with new or expanded programs to match.
With this boom often comes a bust. In a recession, income tax revenue falls more rapidly than income. Politicians offset the shortfall with “temporary” taxes, fees, and debt. That additional revenue is then built into permanent spending programs, and the “temporary” taxes, fees, and debt rarely disappear. With the exception of Nebraska, the state has raised individual and corporate income taxes more than any other state in the region.
This boom and bust of revenue and spending was especially evident during recent economic cycles. Throughout the 1990’s, the economy grew and revenue increased more than 7 percent per year, outpacing the growth in income of only 5.2 percent. When recession hit in 2001, the state found itself with a shortfall. Most of it was due to declines in personal and corporate income tax revenue. As they had in prior recessions, politicians responded by increasing taxes and fees, and by issuing more debt.
Paralleling the increased tax burden has been an unprecedented increase in the debt burden imposed by the state on its citizens. In 1992, Kansas’ government debt was around $424 million, a lower than average level for a state of similar size. By 2005, debt had swelled to $3.95 billion, an increase of nearly 832 %.
The current budget is projected to incur a deficit of half a billion dollars. During the recent recession, state spending continued to grow despite the fall in revenue. Initially, spending from state general funds decreased as the recession hit, but they have since recovered. Even with a recovery from the recession, revenue growth will not be enough to fund current policies.
In fact, the unconstrained growth of state spending has far outpaced the growth in personal income for the last three decades. Limiting our scope to the last three budget cycles, we find that General Fund spending increased 8.6%, 9.6%, and 8.6%. In the current budget, state General Fund spending is projected to increase an incredible 18%, far outstripping the growth in the state economy.
In recent years, Kansas has been in a race to the bottom to become the most heavily taxed state in the region. While Kansas has been raising taxes and adding debt, surrounding states have pursued more prudent tax policies.
The sharp increases in spending, taxes and debt have resulted in a decline in the state’s business climate. Throughout the last decade, Kansas has consistently ranked among the bottom group of states in business tax climate. Among the surrounding states, only Nebraska has a lower business tax climate ranking.
Kansas has been an underachiever in economic growth during the past decade. The difference is exacerbated when compared to the more rapidly growing neighboring states like Colorado. At one time, Kansas had a larger population and higher Gross State Product than Colorado. As Colorado’s individual and corporate income taxes were reduced, their population and Gross State Product outgrew Kansas.
A heavy tax burden is a major factor contributing to slower growth in some states, and Kansas in recent years has fallen into this category of one of the nation’s heavily taxed states.
Dr. Barry Poulson is a professor of economics at the University of Colorado and a distinguished scholar with Americans for Prosperity.