That squealing sound you heard early on May 2 was the sound of Kansas legislators’ tires peeling out of Topeka. They headed home to Johnson County to begin what is sure to be a brutal campaign season.
Legislators wrapped up the 2016 session in record time. This year’s Legislature was the shortest in 42 years. They spirited out of Topeka without balancing the state budget. For the record, Kansas is spending more than ever before, but revenues are not meeting estimates. These budget shortfalls should more wisely be called “missed projections,” but it appears fiscal conservatives long ago lost that vernacular war.
Members of the Kansas Legislature also wrapped up without closing a so-called limited liability company, or LLC, loophole, which allows some entrepreneurs and farmers to avoid paying income taxes to the state of Kansas. Honest and reasonable legislators can and did disagree about how to tackle that unintended consequence of a 2012 budget.
One coalition of legislators, however, had no qualms about screeching repeatedly that the loophole must be closed for the good of Kansas. Liberal, radical Republicans and Democrats harped repeatedly that closing the loophole was necessary for the good of the Sunflower State.
It’s difficult to choose the most disingenuous member of the coalition of House Republicans and Democrats who voted against a bill to close the loophole. But perhaps the most egregious member was Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Fairway Republican. One week prior to a May 2 vote to close the loophole, Rooker told guests at a Johnson County Chambers of Commerce legislative breakfast: “For most of us, it is abundantly clear that the tax cuts are not working to grow the economy.”
One week later, she voted against legislation that would have done exactly what she said she wanted. Other Johnson County House members who repeatedly said the loophole needed to be closed but voted against it include Reps. Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills, Stephanie Clayton of Overland Park, Blaine Finch of Ottawa, and Tom Burroughs, Broderick Henderson and Valdenia Winn of Kansas City. All told this loose coalition of 24 voted against a bill they harped was desperately needed. Sometime in the middle of the night on the last day of the 2016 legislative session, the bill failed by 16 votes.
I only mention names because as I type there’s a movement afoot to cast stones at the Republicans who passed the 2012 tax cuts in the first place — many of whom voted for the failed measure to close the loophole this year. Had they been joined by the so-called mods and Democrats, the fix would have passed.
Johnson County residents are about to be hit with a hailstorm of primary and election season mailings, accusing conservatives of doing irreparable damage to the state of Kansas based on the LLC loophole. These likely mailers, door stop visits and campaign phone calls should be met with derision if they are coming from one of the 24 legislators who advocated for sewing the loophole shut all spring, and then voted against doing just that when push came to shove.
Rooker, wrote in an update to constituents, “Even if we were actually able to pass the ‘LLC fix’ being proposed, it merely gets us almost back to zero, but we still face crippling cuts to essential services.”
Such statements make an absolute mockery of our political system, which ideally requires compromise and moving policies in inches — not miles. That’s compromise these moderates and Democrat legislators are always suggesting is lacking from conservatives in the state.
In politics, it’s commonly understood that the perfect is the enemy of the good. It appears Rooker and most of her coalition of Democrats and radically liberal Republicans didn’t get that memo. Those legislators don’t want to take baby steps to improve Kansas. They’re looking to hit rock bottom, first.
When these so-called moderates and Democrats show up on voters’ front stoops this summer or fall asking for votes, when these candidates and legislators say Kansas is broken and that they are having trouble moving the needle to make improvements, they’ll be selling voters a story that isn’t accurate. Don’t buy it.
Meanwhile, voters may notice a divide about LLC proposed fixes between many in the conservative movement. Honest people can and did disagree about how to best patch Kansas’ budget. Many viewed the LLC fix as a tax increase. Others viewed it as a way to flatten the tax code, eliminate special exemptions and make Kansas’ tax policy fairer. These are both reasonable views, and thoughtful people drew different conclusions.
The band of 24 in the House who advocated for the fix and then voted against it are not among the thoughtful and reasonable. Clearly, their goal is to sell Kansans a bill of goods about how bad and evil conservatives are with an end goal of getting more of their ilk elected to office.
Shame on them.
Danedri Herbert writes monthly. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @danedri.