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Archive for Sunday, May 2, 2004

Chambers of commerce disagree on tax increases

May 2, 2004

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Several nearby chambers of commerce have criticized the Kansas Chamber of Commerce about the state organization's opposition to a tax increase for schools.

But the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce has expressed no heartburn over the matter.

Lavern Squier, president and chief executive of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said the local chamber was not thinking about dropping out of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce like the Shawnee Area Chamber of Commerce did last week.

"It has not been discussed or contemplated," Squier said. "It is not even on the table for discussion."

The Shawnee Area Chamber of Commerce ended a 58-year affiliation with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce because of the school-funding issue.

The state chamber has been adamantly opposed to a tax increase for schools, saying an increase would be detrimental to the overall economy.

But Mark Parkinson, chairman of the Shawnee Area chamber, said that position was opposite to his group's.

"The state chamber's position that there be no additional funding of schools is short-sighted and unrealistic," Parkinson said. "...when its No. 1 priority is opposite of our No. 1 priority, it is time to say goodbye."

Jim Gregory, a spokesman for the Kansas Chamber, said that because of the wide range of interests of chambers across the state, he didn't think it was unusual for some to disagree with the state organization.

The Johnson County Public Policy Council, which includes the Shawnee Area chamber and nine other chambers in Johnson County, has also issued a statement critical of the state chamber on the issue of education funding.

Meanwhile, the Lawrence Chamber's position on whether to support a tax increase for public schools has been unclear.

Squier said the Lawrence Chamber didn't support a tax increase, but when asked if it supported the Kansas Chamber's position, he said, "That's not been stipulated or put out in that manner."

In February, Larry McElwain, then-chairman of the Lawrence Chamber, testified to lawmakers that the chamber supported a $314 million three-year school-funding plan by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius that would have increased state sales, income and property taxes.

"The governor's plan offers us a foundation for a rational, tactical approach to solving a huge state problem," McElwain had said.

But Squier said the position of the chamber had been misinterpreted. The chamber supports education, he said, but that doesn't necessarily mean it supports a tax increase.

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