Over Easy: Kansas governor signs law that defunds judiciary, if court strikes down 2014 law that he likes

Forcing austerity down their throats in Kansas

Forcing austerity down their throats in Kansas

You can’t make this up. Kansas Governor Brownback, whose failed Tea Party experiment (massive tax cuts to the rich and tax burden increase for the poor) turned Kansas into one of the most dysfunctional states in the country is now threatening to shut down the entire Kansas court system unless they uphold a 2014 law that is likely unconstitutional.

In 2014, the Kansas Supreme Court found that education funding was inadequate and it remanded the case back to a lower court to determine whether lawmakers violated a state constitutional requirement for adequacy in education. In retaliation, the governor signed a 2014 law giving district judges rather than the state supreme court the power to choose chief judges in the district courts. That law is being challenged on constitutional grounds, and if the state supreme court strikes it down, all funding for the courts will be eliminated and Kansas will face a constitutional crisis.

In 2012 and 2013, even though income taxes accounted for more than half of the state’s general fund, Brownback exempted 191,000 businesses from income tax and slashed tax for the rich. He promised that the rich and the businesses would use that money to grow the economy and create jobs. It didn’t happen, of course. Instead, his recklessness derailed the economy by generating a 400 million dollar shortfall, necessitating a marathon session of the legislature to come up with a budget approval of some sort, in order to keep the government from shutting down completely.

The legislature met on Sunday night. Something had to give. Some taxes had to come from somewhere, so the legislature, now legendary for its underhandedness, agreed on a plan to balance the budget on the backs of the working poor and the middle class:

The bill balances the budget on the backs of the middle class and working poor by raising sales taxes to 6.55%, eliminating nearly all itemized deductions and cutting the home mortgage interest and property taxes paid deductions to 50%, eliminating the food sales tax credit for the poor, and raising the cigarette tax by 50 cents/pack. It also contains the tuition tax credit that would give corporations up to $10 million if they will take children from public schools into private and unaccredited schools, expanding the eligibility rules for students.

The bill preserves the income tax exemptions for LLCs under which partners in businesses (think attorneys, physicians, etc.) pay no income tax while their employees do.

Governor Brownback continues to insist that his experiment is working just fine and any problems or glitches like the entire state being utterly screwed is the media’s fault.

Governor Brownback continues to insist that his reckless tax policy is fine and just needs more years to work. His Budget Director, Shawn Sullivan, went before the Republican Caucus to let them know that there would be massive cuts to K-12 education and public safety if they did not pass the tax bill. Sullivan said the cuts to education could be as high as $191 million. Read the AP report here.
The sticking point continues to be the Brownback policy under which more than 330,000 businesses in Kansas no longer pay any income tax. Many legislators believe that these businesses should be back on the tax rolls and that any increases in “consumption taxes” (sales, gas, tobacco, liquor, etc.) should be kept to a minimum. Others believe in the Brownback policy and want to keep those businesses off the tax rolls; these legislators would make our tax system even more regressive than it is now.
Brownback has vowed to veto any legislation that taxes those businesses.

Meanwhile, a district court dismissed the teachers’ union’s challenge to Kansas’s due process law. So, no tenure, no job security, and no hearing or due process for the public school teachers. Apparently, the governor’s goal in Kansas is to eliminate public education. Since that requires suspending the constitution, he is now threatening to shut down the courts in Kansas, if the Supreme Court dares to uphold it.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey on flickr.

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