Revenue Growth Lags As Kansas Falters

Revenue Growth Lags As Kansas Falters
By Karl Peterjohn, Kansas Taxpayers Network

In early August Governor Sebelius issued a news release praising the economic growth that had allowed state tax revenues to grow significantly in the fiscal year that ended June 30. In the state’s general fund revenues were 7.1 percent or $322 million above last year.

This seemingly good news hides a big problem. Kansas revenues are growing well below the national averages. We are also lagging behind our neighbors and this includes job growth too. Nationally, the Wall Street Journal reported in July that federal revenues were 14.6% above the same period last year or over $204 billion. Oklahoma’s state government is taking $150 million of their increased tax revenue to use to cut personal income taxes but they will also raise spending by $750 million more according to Budget and Tax News in August.

Why is Kansas economic growth lagging? Some tax collections are actually down. In 2002 the state’s cigarette tax was raised from 24 to 79 cents a pack. Naturally, tax collections soared in 2003 with this 229 percent tax hike. However, the state’s revenue per penny of cigarette taxes started to fall and has continued to decline. Total revenues are falling in the last two years and are now over $10 million below the 2003 high point.

Before the cigarette tax was raised, this levy generated about $2 million for every penny of tax. Now it is barely $1.5 million per penny. While total revenues are about $119 million, or 2 percent of the state’s revenues, the proposal by Governor Sebelius for another large, 50 cent a pack tax hike will just shift a lot of cigarette purchases out-of-state, to the internet, or other tax avoiding alternatives. Sadly, this is also leading to more illegal cigarette sales and smuggling.

Severance tax collections soared over 22 percent or over $18 million in the most recent fiscal year as oil and gas prices enjoyed large hikes. This tax collected over $100 million for the first time but is also just 2 percent of state tax collections.

Personal and corporate income tax receipts enjoyed a large percentage growth of 11.9 percent or $244 million above last year. This increase alone was 75 percent of the total increase in state general fund revenues. In contrast, Kansans are shopping outside of Kansas since sales tax collections grew only 2.2 percent or $35 million. Many Kansans, particularly those in eastern Kansas, have learned that the lower state tax rates on groceries, cigarettes, gasoline, beer and alcohol lead to lower prices in western Missouri and in other border states.

This might also explain the generally flat overall, but in some individual cases, declining tax collections the state has on various forms of alcohol and related products. The state’s cereal malt beverage tax collections actually dropped over 4 percent or $88 thousand last year.

The state’s 20 mill property tax for public schools is excluded from the official state revenue estimates. However, the increase in appraisals resulted in estimates of a $40 million hike in the state’s tax collections for this levy that is excluded from the official Kansas General Fund figures.

So the shifting changes in Kansas tax collections shows the mixed nature of the economic recovery in this state. This is an additional reason why Kansas cannot afford another new state spending spree next year.

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Karl Peterjohn is the executive director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network and is a former news reporter and California Department of Finance budget analyst.


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