Sen. Stephen Morris
Kansas Senate President
The 2010 Legislative Session is now officially history. When this chapter of the Kansas story is written, it will go down as perhaps the most significant since the Great Depression. In fact, the challenges facing lawmakers this year were unprecedented. As we enter the election season, you may hear a lot of misinformation about what actually happened in Topeka this year; I would like to set the record straight.
First, as the economy weakened, a series of very difficult decisions were made to cut or reduce the $6 billion state budget by roughly $1.5 billion … slashing budgets, furloughing state employees, cutting or eliminating programs and forcing government to do more with less.
As the economic crisis continued to get worse, it was clear additional cuts would jeopardize critical programs that we, as citizens, depend on -– like K-12 education, law enforcement, corrections, services for the elderly, veterans and disaster aid to name a few.
As leaders, we are elected to make difficult decisions. After listening to Kansans in every corner of the state and hearing from economic experts at Wichita State University, we knew the only responsible way to move forward was to implement a modest, three-year, one-cent state sales tax increase. On July 1, 2013, the tax rate will drop to 5.7 percent. The remaining 0.4 percent will fund continued maintenance on our state’s roads and bridges under the comprehensive transportation program that will also create jobs in communities across Kansas.
The decision to increase the sales tax was not reached lightly. The 1 cent sales tax increase was chosen because nearly everyone — including non-residents who work, shop or travel through Kansas — pay into the system. A one-cent sales tax allows Kansas to remain competitive with its neighbors which, despite having sometimes lower state sales taxes, often have higher local taxes. By spreading the burden across nearly everyone, we reduced the amount any one individual pays into the system, and we protected the poorest Kansans from the brunt of this increase by including food tax rebates and income tax credits.
Of course, some lawmakers and organizations chose a different path … one not part of the solution. It is not surprising these same people are now busy spreading false or misleading information in an effort to frighten Kansans and score political points.
In fact, some of the same legislators who vocally opposed this modest sales tax increase actually supported a 2002 effort to increase the sales tax rate, claiming it would be a catalyst for economic growth. They were right. Three years after that increase, the Kansas economy grew with more than 35,000 new jobs.
Kansans are resilient, and despite being in the throes of a stubborn recession, our state will come back better and stronger than ever. The start to economic recovery began in Topeka, but will end in coffee shops, diners, aircraft assembly lines, classrooms and Main Streets across our state when those who want to work, can find good jobs.
By cutting budgets, reining in spending and providing a responsible approach to revenues, we have been able to meet the state’s obligations and keep our state fiscally whole. Kansans benefit from a sound, responsible, efficient and effective state government.
At the end of the day, we take the trust voters place in us very seriously. We are not professional politicians; citizen-legislators are teachers, farmers/ranchers, doctors, retirees, lawyers, small business owners and bankers- Kansans just like you. We come together every year for 90 days to make difficult decisions on behalf of our neighbors, our families and our fellow citizens.
The one thing we all agree on is that our best days are ahead, and we are optimistic about the future. This year was about making choices. The steps taken by lawmakers who chose to be part of the solution will set the groundwork for increased economic growth and stability in the years to come.