What's the Matter with Kansas?

Faced with a shortage of funds this year and unwilling to cut the bloated state budget, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius is planning to welsh on the state’s debt to taxpayers who overpaid in 2008 and to put a hold on paychecks owed to state employees until the Republican-controlled state legislature allows her to break state law by borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars from already  bankrupt state funds.

Breaking Borrowing Law

The Kansas Finance Council, which is made up of Sebelius and six state GOP leaders, is refusing to approve the Democratic Governor’s $225,000,000.00 borrowing plan because state law requires all such debts, called certificates of indebtedness, to be retired by the end of the fiscal year in which they were issued. Kansas’ fiscal year ends June 30, and the state has already taken out $550,000,000.00 in certificates that it likely won’t be able to repay. Approving the additional amount requested by Sebelius would push that debt total over three-quarters of a billion dollars with 4 1/2 months remaining to somehow find the money to  pay it off within the timeframe required by law.

“We cannot issue more certificates if the funds will not materialize by the end of the year,” said House Speaker Mike O’Neal (R) in a press release. “Without the revised 2009 budget bill, there is no way that we can legally issue a certificate knowing full well that the money will not be available to retire the debt.”

Governor Turns Up Nose at Real Alternatives

Republicans in the legislature, who pressed Sebelius to trim the state budget in 2008 to avoid exactly this problem, proposed and passed $326,000,000.00 in cuts this month as an alternative to the Democratic Governor’s effort to solve the state’s debt problem by going deeper into debt.

Naturally, Sebelius responded to the GOP’s refusal to sign off on illegal borrowing, and its passage of a budget cut bill, by accusing Republicans of “play[ing] political games.”

She hasn’t yet said whether she will sign the budget cut bill, use her line-item veto power, or veto it outright.

Violating Contracts and Committing Theft

The fact that state employee contracts will be violated, and workers not paid in accordance with their legally binding agreements with their employer (the state), as a result of Sebelius’s gross overspending speaks to how little regard she has for her legal commitments –not to mention how little she thinks of government employees who are, you know, counting on their employer to meet payroll in order to provide food, clothing, and shelter for themselves and their families.

Further, the decision to withhold income tax refunds, while reflective of Sebelius’s welsher’s attitude toward debt, shows a remarkable lack of regard for the intelligence of state taxpayers as a whole, which has been fostered by the income tax withholding system.

Because of income tax withholding, many taxpayers have long since begun looking at tax refunds as a “gift” from the state or federal government, which can’t necessarily be counted on but which is a nice surprise when qualified for and received. Few taxpayers indeed recognize tax refunds for what they are: repayments of a debt incurred when the federal or state government took more money from a worker’s paycheck than they were entitled to.

In the business world, that’s called “stealing,” “cheating,” or “swindling,” and the criminal nature of this practice is only somewhat mitigated by the fact that the amount by which taxpayers were overcharged is returned each spring in the form of a refund. Now, Kathleen Sebelius has decided that the money taken out of workers’ wages above that to which the state was entitled will simply be kept, because it’s an easier and less personally painful course of action than actually dealing with a bloated, unfunded budget by cutting from unnecessary programs.

This isn’t even legalized theft; it’s just plain theft.