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Current Events, Kansas, Politics

Budgeting for (by) Dummies

To this point, I haven’t said a whole lot about problems the legislature has been having struggling with our budget. There are a lot of voices in that chorus already anyway, and I don’t have too much to contribute that hasn’t been said. Though, I will say at least a couple things that I do think need said, if only to drive the issues home.

This starts with Furlough Friday. Which was, and now isn’t. The legislature avoided furloughs by… saying there won’t be furloughs. Let me be clear, I hate seeing my friends put into a tough position because of a furlough. BUT, that process is in place for a reason. It’s the line in the sand that forces our representatives to do their job in a timely manner. By lifting that threat, even temporarily, that’s a gift more for them than the workers. Keep in mind, while the bill authorized the employees to work, it does not authorize them to be paid. Because they can’t do that without the budget. So, they basically just told state workers to keep doing what they’re doing, for free, and they’ll get checks in the mail to them for that when they get around to it. And if those workers happen to be part of the university system, they can’t even openly discuss their concerns without fear for their jobs now, thanks, again, to the Kansas Legislature:

Sure, it’s still better than full-on furlough, where the employees wouldn’t have been paid for that time at all. And, Kansas will have a budget at some point, without a doubt, meaning paychecks should flow at some point. But make no mistake that “allowing” employees to work by saying they’re all “essential” wasn’t about doing what’s right for the employees. It was about saving face in Topeka and taking the pressure off. Remember this gem?

I mentioned on Twitter, and I’ll say here, I don’t envy the legislature at this time, and I can appreciate the catch 22 they’re in, that even I have criticized them for: that’s that they’re going to pass bad legislation when forced to under the gun, working until midnight, but also that they’re nearly three weeks past the end of their session and taking more time just costs more money is further showing their uselessness (uselessness they’re being paid for). Let’s be clear though, it’s a hole of their own making. It’s not as if passing a budget is a surprise need that jumped out of the closet at them. Nor is the current shortfall any shocker. We’ve literally seen it coming for months as tax receipts were down time and time again. This should have been priority #1 throughout the end of their legislative session, and it should have been treated with the weight that it is right now, because nothing has changed for us during that time. I don’t know if they just thought they could ignore the problem away, or what, but make no bones about it, we’re here because they failed more completely than any other session in the history of Kansas.

At one point, I mentioned that the legislators should be the ones going without pay right now, to which I was chastised. And while a fair criticism towards me, the fact remains that if we’re putting people in a position to be without pay, why do we make it the ones who can’t control anything? Where is leading by example? The fact is, the legislators are not your “normal” employee. They are the top of the mountain. But instead of being the example, they are happy to let the shit roll downhill (and then pass a bill at the midnight hour calling it something besides shit). All the while passing on gems like this, regarding their problem-solving strategy:

What pisses me off the most about the leadership question though, is Brownback. Proverbs 16:18 brother: “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling.” I’ve said it, and I’ll keep saying it. Brownback is so enamored with his “march to zero” that he has outright refused certain options to make the budget work. Good leaders simply do not do that. A good leader knows you put everything on the table to solve a problem. You don’t tie people’s hands behind their back. It’s not a pie eating contest we’re talking about. He’s so without humility about the failure of his plan though, that he refuses any acknowledgement that his changes are at fault. So instead we have to do something else when there is nothing else that won’t leave us right back here next year (at best).

That, while being perfectly fine trying to use sin and regressive taxes to fill the ever deepening hole, a principle that’s just throwing good money after bad. The reality is, Brownback and company are perfectly fine with raising taxes, just not the ones that affect the people in their world. The looming increase in state sales tax will be the second time his administration has pushed it, and will make us one of the highest state sales taxes in the country. This process is an understandable necessity to an extent, given the “march to zero” idea. But it’s happening not because of that. It’s happening as a reaction to the hole we’re in. A good “march to zero” plan would lower income taxes while raising sales, sin, and other taxes in a balanced manner that keeps the receipts steady. That’s the responsible way to implement the plan and it is most certainly not what is happening. There is a name for the plan we have right now: chaos.

At the end of the day, the problem is so ridiculously simple, we should force all of the people in Topeka right now to answer one question: Why can’t you math? That’s the totality of our problem, leadership’s inability to do basic math. Instead, they rely on “fuzzy math,” “projections,” and “estimates” for all their lawmaking and tax-planning. These all have another common word for description: guesses. It’s extremely hard to upend a system like taxes and change the way it works while keeping things on the straight and narrow. I get that. It’s the nature of a multivariate, complex system. But you at least improve your chances at success by keeping your changes simple, straightforward, and as singular as possible in any given step. You also have to acknowledge the results and adjust when they don’t meet expectations. No one writing the laws seems to get that, though.

Kansas was the grand conservative experiment when it came to tax policy. But the lawmakers forgot one of the primal rules of experimentation, which is that you don’t change a bunch of things at once, and ignore the results when they don’t favor you. See you next year.

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