BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Seeing the “handwriting on the wall” simply means understanding what is inevitable. The metaphor can be traced King Belshazzar in the fifth chapter of Daniel watching a disembodied hand write on the wall of his Babylonian palace. After the King’s wisest men were unable to decipher the writing, Daniel, an Israelite, successfully interpreted its meaning.
Nowhere is the phrase more timely and appropriate than the predictable situation Oklahoma will face based upon what is now happening in Kansas.
Both Kansas and Oklahoma have relentlessly pursued cuts in the rates of state income tax under Republican legislative supermajorities.
In 2012, Kansas’ income tax rate was cut by 25% and many corporations and businesses were totally exempted from paying income tax. A year later, those who still paid income tax received additional incremental decreases of 20% over a number of years.
Not to be outdone, Oklahoma adopted rounds of cuts exceeding 30% of the state’s income tax rate with an additional triggered cut of 0.15% set to begin the first of July of this year.
Heads up. The chickens have come home to roost in the Jayhawk State.
The very ability of Kansas state government to operate became questionable.
Kansas began a process known as “tax shifting,” a process of cutting funding to towns, schools and counties requiring them to increase property and sales taxes on the local level. By 2014, more than three-fourths of all Kansas counties were forced to increase property taxes by as much as 5.7%.
Last week, the “writing on the wall” in Topeka became obvious. Gov. Sam Brownback faced a budget shortfall of more than $800 million. When money was not available to adequately fund education, roads, bridges, corrections and other services, he made one-time transfers from revolving funds and swept money from the transportation fund to cover half the gap.
Then at 1:30 a.m. on June 12 came a shootout, not at the OK Corral, but on the floor of the Kansas House. The Republican governor threatened that if additional revenue was not found, massive budget cuts and layoffs would begin immediately.
The Wichita Eagle reported that legislators wept. No incidents of teeth gnashing, but the environment was appropriate.
By 4 a.m., amid the smell of burning sulfur, the Kansas House voted to increase the state sales tax to 6.5 cents, take away half the mortgage interest and property tax deductions, eliminate other personal deductions, and increase the cigarette tax.
The bill did not re-impose the income tax on businesses or corporations, did not cut off any of the millions of dollars in tax breaks or credits enjoyed by “small” businesses like Koch Industries, but it did give additional tax breaks for private school tuition. The Senate followed suit.
Plain and simple, Kansas’ quest to cut income tax was realized by burdening working Kansans with increased sales taxes, taking away their personal tax deductions and forcing counties, cities and schools to impose increases in property and sales taxes to simply survive.
Oklahoma faced a $611 million budget hole and swept massive amounts of money from transportation and education budgets and raided revolving and rainy day funds. Next year when Oklahoma’s projected deficit will be $1 billion, those one-time funds will not be available.
Kansans currently pay 253% more of their personal income on property taxes than do Oklahomans. Kansas’ state sales tax rate is 62.5% higher than Oklahoma’s. Those differences will increase because Kansas has cut funding to schools, counties and towns that will be forced to increase property and sales taxes themselves.
Will Oklahoma follow the same path Kansas has taken or will we see the writing on the wall?
Daniel’s literal interpretation of the writing on the wall, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharshin” was “Numbered, Numbered, Weighed and Divided” meaning Babylon’s destruction was imminent. Let us hope that Oklahoma fares better than Babylon.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives