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  • Writer's pictureClay Wirestone, Kansas Reflector

Opinion: Flat tax fantasies – Senators pitch a most unlikely future for Kansas

The grand potentates in charge of the Kansas Legislature believe that lowering tax rates on the rich will transform our state. I have some bad news for them. You can fiddle with percentages all you want, but you can’t relocate Kansas to the Gulf Coast.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a listen to Senate President Ty Masterson, who wants you to know something important about tax structure.

“The states that are doing the best are the zero income tax states,” he told the Senate Tax Committee on Monday, while advocating for a flat tax. “And this is not even an attempt to get there. The second tier are those with the single rate flat tax. So the structure is actually the most important thing to get to. And this would allow you to get to a structure with a lower rate.”

So let’s look at these states.

Nine have no income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

Eleven have a flat tax: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Utah.

Both Georgia and Iowa are scheduled to move to a flat tax system.

Step up, Kansas

Studying the list, I notice that most of the states are either travel destinations, economic powerhouses or just plain desperate. (Mississippi should really work on fixing the capital city’s water supply before flattening taxes.)

If Kansas wants to join them, here is a handful of entirely serious suggestions.

Start a rodent-themed amusement park: Florida enjoys Disney World, a magical place made possible by the one and only Mickey Mouse. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it drew 58 million people a year. Obviously, we should build our own version in Kansas. Perhaps it could feature little-known Mickey antagonist Mortimer Mouse.

This gigantic tourist trade infuses money from throughout the globe into Florida. That makes it relatively easy for the state to go without an income tax, with sales tax revenue (much of that paid by tourists) making up the difference.

Legalize prostitution and mega-casinos: Las Vegas has made a name for itself as “Sin City” and coined the cheeky slogan “Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” It also happens to be in a state with legalized prostitution and gambling. Kansas has plenty of catching up to do if it wants to match zero-income tax Nevada.

I’m not sure how folks in Salina would feel about adding brothels and slot machines, but I did come up with a slogan they can use for free: “Get salty in Salina!” They have a top-quality theater in town, so the work has already begun.

Legalize recreational marijuana: Of the 22 current or future zero-tax or flat tax states, only Idaho and Wyoming have no legal access to cannabis or CBD oil with THC. Of the remaining 19, seven have fully legalized the substance.

Those state would be Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada and Washington, all of which can paper over losses from income tax revenue with sin taxes on joints and edibles. Meanwhile, in Kansas, a paltry medical marijuana bill hasn’t moved forward in the House or Senate.

Become the center of country music: Many Kansans love country music. But do they love it as much as the residents and artists of Nashville, Tennessee, who made it “Music City U.S.A.“?

That’s why Winfield, which already hosts an iconic yearly bluegrass festival, should revamp itself as a challenger to Nashville. Sure, Americans might not have quite the same appetite for banjos and mandolins as they do for steel guitars and Dolly Parton. But give them credit for good taste and build some recording studios.

Import more mountains and foliage: Listen, I love the Flint Hills. I’m sure that you love the Flint Hills too. But they’re not going to cut it for tourists searching for staggering views. Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming, for instance, enjoy gorgeous mountain ranges. New Hampshire boasts stunning foliage. In Alaska, former Gov. Sarah Palin can show you Russia.

With Western Kansas’ Ogallala Aquifer set to run out of water in the next few decades, we will soon have soon huge tracts of land available. Cities with full landfills could start trucking out their excess trash to form mighty mountain peaks of our very own. Meanwhile, all those agriculture experts at K-State could get to work on new varieties of drought-resistant trees to create acres of Kansas forest.

‘More competitive’

With those heartfelt suggestions in mind, let’s turn to Sen. Virgil Peck, R-Havana.

He echoed Masterson’s message at the Monday hearing. He also objected to opponents’ characterization of the flat tax plan as a return to former Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax “experiment.”

“This is the Legislature’s attempt to do some things to make our state more competitive for our workers, for bringing business and citizens to our state,” Peck said.

Tax policy just doesn’t work that way.

If it did, Brownback’s cuts would have led to booming economic growth across the state. Instead, writes Michael Mazerov of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, they “failed to achieve their goal.”

“The dismal results of the 2012-17 Kansas experiment are consistent with the majority of academic studies on the relationship between state personal income tax levels and state economic performance — and with the experience of most states that have pursued similar policies,” he wrote in a 2018 paper outlining Brownback’s failure.

Let’s face facts, friends. We can’t import mountains or casinos. We can’t legalize every drug known to man. Disney would take a hard pass on “Mortimer Mouse’s World of Cheesy Thrills.”

Kansas has its own landscape, history and people. A flat tax doesn’t fit.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, the Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

This article was used by permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at

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