By any definition, a task force must have members, so assuming there really is a “task force” working on what could be dramatic changes in the Kansas tax structure, why can’t the Kansans who will be affected by those changes know who its members are?
Not only are state officials keeping the members of the task force secret, they also are operating entirely out of the public view, offering the people of Kansas no opportunity for input.
When the Journal-World pressed a Department of Revenue spokeswoman about the makeup of the task force, she refused to give any names or details. She identified a couple of department staff members who “are being consulted” about tax policy. She also said that legislative leaders have been consulted, but only Republican leaders, no Democrats. Others who have been consulted, she said, include “various state agency heads, economists and business owners. … This is not an appointed group.”
So is there really a task force, or is this just Gov. Sam Brownback and Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan collecting input from a group of like-minded business and government associates, many of whom could have a financial stake in the outcome of the discussions?
The department spokeswoman wouldn’t identify any of the business owners who were being consulted, but Brownback’s ties to, for instance, the multibillionaire Koch brothers is well known. The spokeswoman did confirm that Arthur Laffer, one of the architects of President Ronald Reagan’s supply-side economics strategy, is being paid $75,000 for “providing his expertise” on the tax proposal. Laffer’s guiding principle is that lowering certain tax rates will result in economic benefits that more than offset the lost tax revenue. It is a theory that has been discounted by many economists, but has support in some circles, apparently including the Kansas governor’s office.
Regardless of what direction this group is taking, the people of Kansas deserve to know what is going on and to have some input on the process. To that end, Senate Majority Leader Steve Morris announced Tuesday that he was forming his own tax study group to analyze options for reducing taxes and creating a more business-friendly environment. He appointed Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, as the group’s chairman and named three other senators as members. He said the Senate minority leader would be invited to appoint a representative to the group, which also will include members of the public.
“Right now, there are a lot of ideas being floated around, but what they all seem to be missing is citizen input,” Morris said in his announcement. “This isn’t something that should be done behind closed doors by a bunch of bureaucrats.”
Morris also noted, “One of the reasons Washington got itself into so much trouble is because they listened to special interest groups instead of the folks on Main Street. We’re not willing to let those same mistakes be made in Kansas.”
Morris’ effort shows some courage that people in his district and across the state should appreciate. Morris and at least one of the senators he appointed to the study group already face opponents in the upcoming Republican primary. It seems likely they already are being targeted by the conservative wing of the Kansas Republican Party because they supposedly have not been supportive enough of a conservative agenda for the state.
The only problem with Morris’ study group is that it isn’t scheduled to start meeting until the 2012 legislative session. By that time, the existing “task force” already will have a fully formed proposal on the table.
The secrecy surrounding the work on new state tax policies certainly leaves the impression that there’s something about this process that the governor and his revenue secretary want to hide from the people of Kansas. If that’s not the case, state officials need to open this process to public input and scrutiny.