A call for Comprehensive Tax Reform from Governor Carlin

By John Carlin 
​As we look to the opening of the Kansas Legislative session next Monday and the Governor’s State of the State address on Tuesday, let us be mindful of the huge set of challenges ahead for Kansas to recover from the failed policies of the last six years. It will be more difficult and complicated than any governmental challenge I can recall in my lifetime. To be successful, at least three things need to happen. One, we need to make sure the whole story of our fiscal mess is out on the table and understood by the public. Second, we need to understand that despite the progress of electing more moderates in 2016, unless the new President finds a job for our Governor, we will have him for two more years. And third, we have to be very careful not to fall into a trap that is packaged as a strong first step in dealing with our problem.  

It is to that latter point that I wish to comment on today. The announcement that the two new chairs of the two tax committees would be pushing immediately for repeal of the Limited Liability Corporation tax cut sounds so encouraging. They even want to make it retroactive to January 1 to make the most of helping the state out of its fiscal crisis. However, in truth, this is nothing more than an effort to protect the bulk of the other negative changes in the Governor’s failed tax experiment. To his credit, Representative Jim Ward, the new House minority leader, quickly pointed out that this action makes dealing with the bigger, more complicated challenges even more difficult. "The question is: How many of these votes do you want to take?" Ward said. "And if you're going to take serious steps to address the problem—which is a structural budget problem—shouldn't we have a comprehensive approach?"

From the far-right perspective, repealing the tax exemption makes good sense. Privately, supporters of the original tax cut know that a majority of Kansans want change and admission that the experiment didn’t work. By sounding responsible, they know their chances of protecting the remainder of the tax experiment increases. This is because many legislators will feel they have done their part and will not support any other steps that are necessary to really get the job done.

The Republicans and Democrats that were elected to address the mess must now be very strategic, politically wise, and patient for the right time and way to really take the steps to restore Kansas to solid positions it previously had. That is, wisely investing in quality public education, understanding that taking care of our infrastructure makes good business sense, and that supporting our most vulnerable citizens is not only right but is also in the state’s best interests.

The effort by so many responsible citizens to bring success in the 2016 elections must be continued now or that progress will be very short-lived. We must share this reality, support those who want to really address the challenges, and be wisely patient for the best interests of the state.

I’ll plan to discuss this and many other issues throughout this legislative session as events unfold. In the meantime, if this resonates with you, help spread the word. Tell your legislators you understand that positive change will take time. Bring the message to others. We citizens must step up and be an active part of the solutions. It won’t happen without us.
John Carlin served as the fortieth Governor of Kansas from 1979 to 1987, and the Archivist of the United States from May 30, 1995, to February 15, 2005. He teaches at Kansas State University and operates a website to advance civic engagement