It certainly would be a stretch to say the Kansas Legislature is a prime example of “profiles in courage.” But I would say they are making some gutsy decisions, bucking powerful conservative groups and individuals who want them to cave to their wishes.
They are faced with the Club for Growth, which ran a statewide cable television ad campaign. They are targeting legislators in specific districts to, more or less, put the fear of God into a legislator who would dare tamper with a business tax exemption that has been a windfall to 281,000 business owners and 52,000 farmers, but left the state deep underwater.
The governor, too, has been adamant about keeping that loophole in place.
Yet the Legislature seems to be moving in the direction of closing much of that loophole, which is a bold move.
Several conservative organizations and the governor have been pushing for a one-cent sales tax increase to help plug the $400 million deficit. That “consumption” tax is the favored tax of some conservatives.
But the Legislature debated that and put it to a vote. It went down in flames.
Meanwhile, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Policy Institute, and the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity have a different notion.
They believe there should be draconian cuts in the budget.
The Legislature has balked at any more cutting. It takes real backbone to stand up to these organizations, which can contribute mightily to legislative campaigns. Legislators who vote for tax increases over more budget cuts could possibly see campaign flyers in their next campaign attacking them as tax-and-spend liberals.
Thirty Kansas legislators have signed the Grover Norquist pledge that they will never raise taxes, for any reason.
Norquist is the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, which opposes all tax increases. And he doesn’t play around. If you violate the pledge, he will come after you with guns blazing.
Yet, several legislators who did sign the pledge appear to be supporting tax increases. Even the president of the Senate, Susan Wagel, who is a signatory of the pledge, according to Norquist’s website, is backing tax increases.
What is going on is nothing less than a mass mutiny.
In the face of threats, legislators are siding with tax increases and elimination of tax exemptions to balance the budget.
One conservative legislator in a leadership position shared this observation:
“The Republican Party is the majority party. We must govern and do what is best for the state. The budget shortfall happened on our watch. We can blame bad projections, too deep tax cuts, less than expected economic growth, on and on.”
He continued, “Bottom line is we have to have a balanced budget, a decent ending balance, so we can pay our bills on time and have a safety net, fund schools and other essential services. The adults are starting to show up and lead.”
Legislators who are backing a series of tax increases and une tax exemptions have been criticized in the media.
I don’t understand that.
No one believes the legislators are going to reverse the income tax cuts. So, ve got to deal the best they can with what they’ve got.
And raising other taxes is far more preferable to budget cuts, which would have to hit schools, higher educationd Medicaid.
It is certainly fair to criticize the Legislature and the governor for getting us into this mess. But legislators are doing the best they can to get us out.
To reach Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist, send email to email@example.com.