Income taxes, dreaded by most but also viewed as an essential component of government funding, could meet their demise in the state of Kansas if the ruling Republican party has its way, according to a statement made by Kansas governor Sam Brownback on January 24, 2013.
Brownback and fellow Kansas Republicans are pushing for legislation that would end the state’s income tax. If the plan succeeds, Kansas would join ranks with Florida, Texas, Wyoming, and a handful of other states that do not levy a tax on ordinary income. The action is, in all likelihood, a backlash response to President Obama’s inaugural address and its expensive, taxing agenda that calls for higher federal income taxes and more spending.
Kansas Republicans have already moved the state in the direction of lower taxes. This month, January 2013, marked the occasion of the largest tax cut in Kansas state history. The state originally had three separate tax brackets, but now, there are only two: 4.9 percent and 3 percent. The two rates are lower than the previous tax rates and are part of a sweeping package that has reduced taxes in other areas as well. Other government- cutting reforms include elimination of certain state employees and the turning over of the state Medicaid system to private insurers.
The Kansas legislation introduced this week would lower taxes even further with the ultimate goal of complete elimination of income taxes at the state level. Kansas Republicans and other proponents see this as a model of economic conservatism and one they hope will be mimicked in state legislatures across the land.
As expected, however, the push toward a tax- free Kansas has been met with resistance, even by more moderate members of the Kansas Republican Party. Without any state income tax, they reason, the already strapped budget will diminish further, forcing state lawmakers to look for other ways to fund essential programs. Property taxes, sales taxes, gasoline taxes, and other less visible taxes may have to increase to make up the shortfall. Then, there is the worry among many that the elimination of an income tax will serve to widen the gap between rich and poor and lead to increased poverty and greater class tension.
Economic conservatism and the promise of smaller government have often been the rallying cry of Republicans, but as most everyone is aware, the smaller government mantra is often an illusion, applying to direct taxation more than anything. Many of those who serve in the Kansas legislature are not just economic conservatives, but also social conservatives who won’t blink an eye at increasing government control over personal decisions. They also won’t think twice about raising taxes in other areas to offset the difference, with the hope that most of the public won’t know or won’t notice.
Kansas legislators are looking forward to the day when their state joins the other seven states as income tax- free zones, but they should probably wait to see how the tax reductions enacted this month affect revenue, economic growth, and personal well- being. If the experiment fails, it could send the state of Kansas and its people further down the ranks of states with the fewest economic opportunities and the least promising future.
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