Commentary

Time for a little checkup

Updated: 2013-02-07T03:52:30Z

By DAVE HELLING

The Kansas City Star

Five questions for the last week in January:

Is Kansas City really ready for an 11-cent sales tax?

Buyers in some parts of the city already pay more than 9 cents in taxes for every dollar they spend. Now Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders wants to tack on another penny for commuter rail, while Missouri is talking about a separate penny for transportation.

An 11-cent sales tax on a $25,000 car is $2,750. Yikes.

Political leaders believe the public’s taste for sales taxes is inexhaustible. We might find out this year if that’s true.

Has Gov. Sam Brownback launched an arms race?

A year after Kansas Republicans slashed income taxes, governors in several other states — Nebraska, Louisiana, South Carolina — are talking about similar proposals.

Unlike the federal government, though, states can’t run operating deficits. So in those other states, as in Kansas, the story really lies in what other taxes are raised to make the budget math work.

See Question 1 for a hint of what those taxes are.

How will we know if the Kansas tax cut experiment is a success?

Brownback says the cuts are meant to accomplish one thing: job growth.

So let’s set the bar. In December, the month before the cuts took effect, the Kansas unemployment rate was 5.4 percent, with 80,400 Kansans seeking work.

We should expect those numbers to improve by February 2014, a year from now. Conveniently, that’s when Brownback’s re-election campaign will be under way.

Is Sen. Pat Roberts the best person to criticize the Benghazi investigation?

The Kansas Republican joined his colleagues last week in roundly attacking the outgoing secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, for failing to fully understand the September attack on the consulate in Libya, which took four lives.

I’ve said before that GOP lawmakers are right to pursue the matter, particularly if they focus on the actual security failure, not what was said about it on TV.

But Roberts’ comments put his own record in the spotlight. Remember, he chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee during the Iraq war.

In 2006, The New York Times asked: “Is there any aspect of President Bush’s miserable record on intelligence that Sen. Pat Roberts … is not willing to excuse and help to cover up?”

Is it a good idea to allocate electoral votes by congressional district?

It could be, if every state did it. Just allowing a few battleground states to do it would be a political disaster, though, one reason Republicans are backing away from the idea.

But the recent discussion has served a useful purpose, by showing again just how ridiculous the Electoral College is.

Kansas and Missouri voters were nonfactors in the 2012 presidential race. Popular election of the president can change that.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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