Kansas’ tax system is broken, according to spending advocates

According to Gary Brunk, executive director of Kansas Action for Children, the Kansas tax system is broken. It’s the same message you hear from other organizations that depend on state funding, such as the public school spending lobby. In their eyes, the problem that needs fixing is that Kansans aren’t taxed enough to support their spending goals.

(State needs tax system that is efficient, fair, July 28, 2009 Wichita Eagle.)

Brunk writes: “We all rely on services paid for in the state budget, so it’s common sense that we should all contribute fairly toward the costs of providing those services.” He then mentions the public school system as one such service. I wonder what parents who have decided they can’t use the product that Kansas public schools produce think about that statement. They pay doubly: once in tuition to a private or parochial school, and then again to support the public schools.

Brunk complains that “sales-tax loopholes alone drain more than $4 billion from state revenues.” I think the Wichita Eagle needs to ask Brunk the basis for this claim. According to the Governor’s Budget Report, in fiscal year 2008 the state collected $1.7 billion in retail sales tax. For Brunk to claim that loopholes cost the state 2.4 times the amount of actual collections is absurd.

Or, you can look at Brunk’s complaint another way: He wants to raise taxes by $4 billion. The state collected (in 2008) just short of $6 billion in taxes, so Brunk thinks taxes need to be raised by 50%. That’s what is necessary to fix the tax system, according to him.

There’s also the perverse idea that letting people keep more of their money “costs” the state. I guess it depends on who you think has first claim on the money that Kansans earn. If you believe that it first belongs to the state, then yes, tax breaks are a cost to the state. I view taxes as a cost that we have to pay, and tax breaks help reduce that cost.

Here’s another of Brunk’s complaints: “… the level of spending in Kansas has changed very little in comparison with personal income trends. In fact, in 1960, our taxes were equal to 10.5 percent of personal income. Nearly six decades later, taxes in Kansas are roughly 12 percent of personal income.”

If you’re not thinking as you read this, you might be persuaded to believe that spending in Kansas has increased by only 1.5 percentage points over a long period of time. But he’s using a clever ruse of expressing taxes as a percent of income instead of in actual dollars.

The truth is that since 1960, personal income has grown rapidly, even after adjusting for inflation. That’s a good thing. Government, according to Brunk’s analysis, has grown even faster, consuming a larger portion of what the people of Kansas produce. That’s not good. Then, according to Brunk, Kansans need to pay more, because the tax system is broken.

At the start of this piece, Brunk complained of “rhetoric and half-truths,” presumably referring to claims made by taxpayer advocates. He wants a “fiscally responsible, commonsense approach.” After reading this piece — full of its own brand of nonsense and doubletalk — I wish that Brunk and other state spending advocates would just say what they really want: more taxes and more spending. Then we could at least have an honest discussion.


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