Topeka — The state’s economic development policy agency has split from the state’s most high-profile business organization.
Kansas Inc.’s board of directors decided not to renew its membership with the Kansas Chamber, which has been under fire in some quarters for aggressively fighting against a state sales tax increase and comprehensive transportation program and campaigning against legislative candidates who supported those issues.
Stan Ahlerich, president of Kansas Inc., said the agency’s board of directors made the decision as a cost-cutting move and because some board members expressed concerns about the chamber’s political positions.
“There was a discussion of the direction the chamber has taken,” Ahlerich said.
Chamber President Kent Beisner said he wasn’t surprised by the decision because of the makeup of the board. He noted the board includes Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Holland, who has been at odds with the chamber.
When told that the board’s decision was without dissent, according to Ahlerich, Beisner said he wasn’t at the meeting and didn’t know what was said. He said he wasn’t concerned about the action because the chamber has “a great relationship with Stan (Ahlerich).”
The chamber’s political action committee is working hard to defeat candidates who voted for the 1-cent increase in the state sales tax that went into effect July 1. The chamber also lobbied during the past legislative session against the $8.2 billion, 10-year comprehensive transportation plan, which was approved and will be partially funded by the sales tax increase.
The Kansas Chamber argued the sales tax increase would hurt businesses.
But supporters of the tax increase said it was needed after six rounds of budget cuts to avoid permanently damaging education, public safety and social services. And supporters of the transportation plan said it will produce thousands of jobs.
Kansas Inc. had been a member of the chamber for as long as Ahlerich could remember, he said. The agency paid $630 per year in dues.
“They’ve been good partners in the past,” he said of the chamber. He said Kansas Inc. tries to be independent and nonpolitical in its work.
During the 2010 legislative session, 14 local chambers of commerce broke ranks with the statewide organization over the tax issue. The local chambers said legislators should consider tax increases to avoid further cuts to education and transportation.
Gov. Mark Parkinson, who pushed for the tax increase, was also critical of the chamber’s positions and statements during the legislative session.