by Joan Wagnon, Chair Kansas Democratic Party
You can add children to the growing list of groups less important to Gov. Sam Brownback than his tax breaks for billionaires and big business. That’s because as part of his efforts to save the cratering Kansas budget, Gov. Brownback has proposed taking $9.5 million from an endowment fund set up to pay for early-childhood programs and transfer it to the state’s all-purpose general fund to help balance his underwater budget.
I have been an advocate for children my entire political career, and it angers me to see funds that were earmarked for children’s programs diverted to tax relief for the rich. Shannon Cotsaradis, Kansas Action for Children said it best:
“We are taking money from little kids to bail the state out,” Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, said Tuesday. “The governor’s amendment sidesteps the law and will ultimately hurt our youngest and some of our poorest Kansas children.”
Cotsoradis and other advocates for children should be furious. But no one should be surprised by the governor’s actions – it’s just part of a pattern that has marked Brownback’s time in office. The pattern: place the interests of billionaires and big corporations ahead of those of working Kansans.
That pattern first appeared when Governor Brownback made passing tax breaks for billionaires his top tax priority in 2012 instead of restoring funding to Kansas schools. In 2011, Brownback made the largest single education cut in Kansas history, cutting over $100 million from K-12 education. But instead of standing up for Kansas students and schools and restoring the cuts he’d made, Brownback let his priorities be known – tax breaks for billionaires before education for Kansas kids.
The pattern again emerged when the governor proposed raising taxes on middle- and low-income Kansans while handing out giant tax breaks to Kansans making millions. He followed this proposal up by signing a tax bill that did raise taxes on the poorest Kansans by eliminating the food sales tax credit and child care credit that help working parents afford care and food for their children. Why would any politician do this? Because the bill had massive tax breaks for special interests and billionaires, going so far as to eliminate taxes altogether on LLCs and other business forms. Once again, tax breaks for billionaires came before helping Kansas families.
Now Brownback wants to double down on his disastrous tax plan. Not only does he want even more tax breaks, he wants to pay for them by raising the sales tax on Kansas families and eliminating the home mortgage interest deduction on Kansas homeowners. Who cares if the cost of milk goes up or Kansans can’t afford their mortgage payments? Tax breaks for the rich come first.
And because of the giant budget hole created by the “worst tax reform” in America, services are going to have to be slashed too. It’s not enough that education will not be adequately funded. Brownback also wants to raid Kansas’s highway fund to pay for the tax breaks he doled out to his special interest backers. Clearly, maintaining the economic lifelines of Kansas communities pales in comparison to Brownback’s top priority.
If Governor Brownback has to resort to stealing from children to afford the tax cuts he promised his campaign donors, it begs the question: “what programs are safe?” We already knew Kansas students, workers, and roads all matter less to the governor that protecting tax breaks for the rich. Today’s actions demonstrate there may be no depths our governor will refuse to sink to protect his disastrous tax policy.