Archive for Saturday, December 29, 2012

2013 Preview: Conservative charge looming in next session of Kansas Legislature

December 29, 2012


— When the 2013 Kansas Legislature begins work Jan. 14, buckle your seatbelts. Gov. Sam Brownback will be leading a conservative charge, guiding a House and Senate chamber that he campaigned to make in his image.

The partisan makeup of the Legislature remains at 92 Republicans over 33 Democrats in the House, and 32 Republicans over 8 Democrats in the Senate. But it's the players within the Republican majorities that will make the difference.

Brownback, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the billionaire Koch brothers and advocacy group Americans for Prosperity teamed up to replace eight moderate Republicans in the Senate with eight conservative Republicans, which put conservatives in firm control of the upper chamber under new Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.

The House, already in conservative hands, has 50 new members, many of them tea party Republicans, some of whom have gone so far as to voice support for legislation to authorize state and local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement the Affordable Care Act.

The outgoing House speaker — Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson — is moving across the street to become chief executive of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, and the incoming speaker — Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell — serves on the board of the American Legislative Exchange Council, and is state chairman for that group.

It is difficult to imagine a greater consolidation of state government under one political philosophy.

In a recent forum, longtime Kansas political observer Joe Aistrup, a political science professor at Kansas State University, said, "The governor is going to be able to push through his legislative agenda in a very meaningful way. We are going to see a very strong pendulum swing to the right."

Not that Brownback has had much trouble before in achieving his agenda.

In 2012, he pushed and threatened and followed through with his threats, and signed into law the state's most radical change of tax policy, calling it a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy. Nearly 200,000 business owners will no longer pay state income taxes, while the top rate will drop from 6.45 percent to 4.9 percent, and the standard deduction available to married couples and heads of household will increase.

Brownback said the legislation "will create tens of thousands of new jobs and help make Kansas the best place in America to start and grow a small business."

The Brownback tax cuts also got rid of some tax credits aimed at helping low-income Kansans, such as the tax credit to offset sales tax paid on groceries, an adoption tax credit and child care tax credits. In addition, renters will no longer qualify for a low-income property tax credit.

As predicted, the cuts are producing seismic quakes in a state budget that had already been cut repeatedly during the recession. Legislative researchers have estimated the Brownback tax cuts will produce budget shortfalls of $2.5 billion over six years.

Revenue for the fiscal year that starts July 1 is projected to total $5.464 billion, which is $705 million less than the current fiscal year revenue estimates. That decrease will eat up the state's current balances and still produce a nearly $300 million budget shortfall that legislators will have to start dealing with as soon as they return to work.

Given that the current state budget weighs in at less than $6.2 billion per year, that means significant cuts, tax increases, or a combination will be needed to reach a balanced budget.

“A $705 million drop in revenue is only the beginning,” said Terry Forsyth, president of the Working Kansas Alliance. “The magical growth model that the governor talks about only exists for the wealthiest Kansans who benefit from his tax plan. For working families and Kansans who are fighting to get into the middle class, we get deep cuts to essential services and higher property taxes."

Brownback has promised to protect education, Medicaid and public safety funding, but Budget Director Steve Anderson has asked agencies to propose cuts of 10 percent in their budget submissions.

In addition, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and some conservative legislators are clamoring for more spending and tax cuts. The Chamber has endorsed keeping the 6.3 percent state sales tax, which was to fall back to 5.7 percent on July 1, and using that revenue to reduce the income tax further.

Democrats, who voted for the temporary sales tax increase in 2010, have said they oppose making the increase permanent. The problem for them is that the moderate Republican-Democratic majority that existed then is now history.

The Kansas Chamber also wants to take another crack at changing the public pension system into a 401(k)-style plan for new teachers and government workers.

And Brownback and conservative groups are pushing for changes that would give the governor more power in appointing appeals court judges.

Meanwhile, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has taken his lawyer skills across the country to fight for tougher laws against undocumented workers, will be helping legislators in Kansas push for those measures. Kobach also wants the Legislature to approve granting his office prosecutorial authority in alleged voter fraud cases.

And on another front, most political observers believer a bill called the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act will pass. Supporters say it will protect religious rights, but opponents say it can be used to discriminate against gays. Last session, the House approved the bill, but Senate leaders, who have since been defeated, wouldn't consider the bill.


rtwngr 5 years, 2 months ago

This probably should have been placed on the editorial page.

Shelley Bock 5 years, 2 months ago

Where's the personal opinion of the writer which would classify this article as an "opinion" or "editorial"? It clearly describes the focus of those who now are in control and what can be expected? How is that not factual?

Please explain why it is opinion and not facts and observations?

Liberty275 5 years, 2 months ago

"what can be expected? How is that not factual?"

That's your answer.

Brian Laird 5 years, 2 months ago

No, it is not an answer. Given that the Governor and legislators in question have stated many times what their positions are, it is not at all a stretch to report on what one should expect in the coming session. Yes, what will actually happen in the future in the session is not yet a fact, but one can legitimately report on what is likely to happen without being accused of bias.

kujayhawk7476 5 years, 2 months ago

This article is a factual look at only a very few pieces of the right-wing whacko agenda that will be promoted by Brownback and his minions, rtwngr.

repaste 5 years, 2 months ago

Demolition by neglect. There will be no money for any but the most pressing of state needs, so schools, social programs, will suffer. That has been the goal.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 2 months ago

Scott, Thanks for providing an important context for viewing the upcoming legislative session. That's not bias, it's good journalism, despite whining from certain ultra-conservative boosters and their comments. The big news is the well financed domination of the political makeup of Kansas politics which has created a defacto one party state. That would be news worth reporting even if it were domination coming from the left, which I assume you would cover equally clearly.

Also, thank you for reporting the strong-arm techniques that have been used to get to this point, i.e. a coordinated and financed assault on moderate legislators, an open disregard by the Brownback administration for working constructively with the Democratic minority, the revolving door influence of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and ALEC, and the disproportionate influence of Koch monies in our state politics. All of this is well documented and your journalistic coverage of these pieces of the puzzle is just plain, good, responsible coverage of a historic shift.

Any calls of bias are perfectly fine as long as they clearly show that the facts are otherwise, which in these cases cannot really be argued and are therefore no more than whining from the "dittoheads," to use terminology that once again is sadly useful.

Not only is it important to provide good information, reading about these changes has many lifelong Republicans beginning to wonder what has happened to their party and where it is going. Do Kansans want to remove unnecessary burdens to a bright future? Do we want to dismantle our social safety net? Do we want to generate our own solutions to our own issues, or do we want to walk in lockstep to an ideology that may or may not have anything to do with reality? All of these questions and their answers require good information, and I consider your reportage an important way to receive just that so that good choices on our political direction can be made.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

Kansas will resemble something straight out of a Dickens novel. Will we get debtors' prisons, too?

StirrrThePot 5 years, 2 months ago

The rapid descent to being in line with Mississippi at the bottom of the pile shall continue. backward as you think.

verity 5 years, 2 months ago

Once again---how many times must it be said---the people who, with the help of the Kochs, ALEC and AFP, among other extra-governmental organizations, have taken over our state government, are NOT Conservatives.

Conservatives are sometimes resistant to or slow to change and sometimes advocate change when that will help conserve what we have and are destroying. In recent history, in the US and in Kansas, most people of all political persuasions have cooperated for the good of the people who elected them.

This new class of people are reactionary destructionists, hellbent to take us back to a two-class system, the upper class/nobility and the serfs and/or slaves whose lives were pretty much controlled by the upper classes. Women in general didn't fare too well, even those in the upper classes.

A vibrant middle class is independent and cannot be tolerated.

But what will happen when there is no middle class to buy stuff? The huge blind spot these people have is that a good economy depends on a vibrant middle class.

jd1929 5 years, 2 months ago

"But what will happen when there is no middle class to buy stuff? The huge blind spot these people have is that a good economy depends on a vibrant middle class."

It will be like the good old days of the Industrial Revolution. The bosses will pay their workers and then they'll get to spend it all at the company store.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 2 months ago

When the signers of the declaration of Independence signed their names they knew it was a death sentence. They believed so strongly in the rightness of their cause that they would even face death for the sake of a new nation.

If the Republican legislators would agree to hang themselves in the even that their economic theories fail, then I would support them whole heartedly.

verity 5 years, 2 months ago

Interesting point.

But this would be sure death.

And I would question how much their beliefs have been affected by money rather than integrity.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 5 years, 2 months ago

This is news?? I don't think there is anyone left in the peoples republic of Brownbackistan and Kobachia that are not aware of the headlong plunge by the governer and his facist cronies toward extaablishing the Fourth Reich in what used to be the State of Kansas.

His actions manipulated by the Koch Reich are well known and documenterd, his outreach to the other states with the asistance of our absentee so called "Secratery of State" has been well documented. Never mind that the National Republican Terrorist party got their collective butts kicked in the national election, they plunge on devoted to turning Kansas into a facist state with flim flam Sam as Furher.

Cait McKnelly 5 years, 2 months ago

Fasten your seat belts, folks. It's gonna be a bumpy ride.

exboyracer 5 years, 2 months ago

And years from now - you will be telling the poor, sick, ignorant and uneducated children of Kansas -- kids this is how we created Brownbackistan. They won't care because they are teapublicans.

This is how you marginalize a state.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 2 months ago

Agreed with verity. These folks are not conservatives. They are right-wing liberals. Right wing populists who have focused their ire on the federal government rather than on corporate fat cats like the populists of old. Both hate intellectuals.

Their anti government and anti tax ideologies will be enacted in Kansas, which will fall further behind.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 2 months ago

"Pity the Billionaire" by Tom Franks does a pretty good job of describing this new right wing populism, where billionaires are recast as populist heroes.

question4u 5 years, 2 months ago

"...tea party Republicans, some of whom have gone so far as to voice support for legislation to authorize state and local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement the Affordable Care Act."

Isn't there some restriction on serving in the legislature if a CAT scan reveals no discernible gray matter? Obviously you don't have to be as smart as a 12-year-old, but are there no intellectual requirements at all?

jd1701d 5 years, 2 months ago

I can't help but feel that we are going to see the rise of plutocracy in this state. in the coming years we will see massive debt on the state level with the wealthy getting more tax break in the poor getting left out in the cold with our children not having the education needed to get out of poverty. may God have mercy on us.

FlintHawk 5 years, 2 months ago

I think it's more near term than "the coming years."

63BC 5 years, 2 months ago

Isn't there some restriction on serving in the legislature if a CAT scan reveals no discernible gray matter? Obviously you don't have to be as smart as a 12-year-old, but are there no intellectual requirements at all?

Well, let's see.

The new VP of the Kansas Senate has a graduate degree from Cambridge and a Law Degree from KU.

The Attorney General, a former Legislator has two advanced degrees from KU.

The Lt. Governor, another former Legislator has degrees from Georgetown, Cambridge and KU Med.

The Governor has an advanced degree from KU.

And this board's favorite Secretary of State has degrees from Harvard, Yale and Oxford.

But, don't get me started on the federal delegation.

Mike Pompeo was first in his class at West Point and graduated Harvard Law, including Law Review.

Clearly, they are ignorant fools. After all, they're conservatives.

George_Braziller 5 years, 2 months ago

A degree doesn't mean someone is smart, just means they did the classwork and passed. One of the stupidest people I knew had a Master's degree yet wasn't bright enough to know she had to change the oil in her car.

I know another person who has an MBA yet had the bank foreclose on her house because she didn't bother to pay the mortgage for TWO YEARS.

My previous boss went to law school with Brownback and graduated the same year. She said that he wasn't very bright and was considered the buffoon of the school by the rest of the law students.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

I said something very similar, but in a much more (and unacceptable to admin) succinct way.

Bottomline-- those with sociopathic tendencies use whatever tools available, including advanced university degrees, to advance their very narrow self interests.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 2 months ago

63, There is no doubt about the intelligence of this crop of neocons; the characteristic that bothers me and should bother most Kansas is what has been referred to as "epistemal closure," the trait which refers to the inability to question the correctness of your assumptions, the inability to consider alternative explanations, and even the inability to examine any contradictory evidence that may indicate that the simplicity of your "solution" may not be entirely correct. The term "epistemal closure" came up most famously last spring within conservative ranks:

and the resulting guffaws and denials from the neocons probably contributed greatly to Romney's defeat in that they so believed their internal polls and assumptions that they were shocked when reality intruded at the voting booth.

David Brooks outlines a contrasting picture of what it means to be a moderate here:

Most notably, the moderate attempts to balance opposing views and tries to discern a gradual course that maintains the tension between alternative views, thereby maintaining the viability of both as a type of checks and balance. The Kansas neocons in their state of epistemal closure maintain a scorched earth policy for all who disagree with them as evidenced by things like Brownback openly despising anything the state Democrats suggest, Wagle's attempt to override the court redistricting plan, Huelskamp's strident fiscal fundamentalism that lost him his committee appointments, and on and on.

So no, they are intelligent fools--a much more dangerous beast.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

An interesting observation. And probably correct. Of course, neither side is without it's fair share of the type of blindness you describe. Here in Kansas, we are saddled with an extreme right that will probably drive this state back into the middle ages. Then again, go to some place like San Francisco. where the left has dominated politics for many years, and you will find the same blindness. And will will find the same inability to solve problems. Yes, their problems are different than our problems. But their inability to see that their solutions don't work are the common denominator. Both the far left and the far right would do their constituents well if they moderated their positions with a turn towards the political center.

FlintHawk 5 years, 2 months ago

"Most notably, the moderate attempts to balance opposing views and tries to discern a gradual course that maintains the tension between alternative views, thereby maintaining the viability of both as a type of checks and balance."

This moderation is what we seem to have lost. I haven't seen anyone opining that government take-over by either extreme is good for the people. I don't, however, see the extreme left robbing the poor (e.g., eliminating tax credits for the working poor) to benefit the rich (e.g., lowering tax rates of the wealthy). Government policy in Kansas is heartbreaking. Our State leaders loudly and repeatedly proclaim that they are Christian. Clearly, they are simply "Ians."

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 2 months ago

They are evil. Willful ignorance by intelligent people is, to me, evil.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 2 months ago

I, too, have experienced the same blindness on the left in San Francisco. For example, in the 1990s, any attempt to do anything about homelessness and vagrancy were attacked with the same ferocity that right wing extremists of today attack Obama and anything that whiffs of government involvement or taxes.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 2 months ago

My perception is that the political continuum is more like a circle, with the extremes of both right and left being right next to each other. In my day, the John Birch Blue Book and the SDS Manual were virtually interchangeable, and if you talk to extremists today from either right or left, you'll hear pretty much the same set of conspiracies and the need to stomp out all non-believers.

Armstrong 5 years, 2 months ago

Gotta love the recipe. 1 part personal opinion, 2 parts grandstanding, a dash of conspiracy. Stir and simmer. Best served with Kool-Aid

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 2 months ago

Dougcounty wrote: "So no, they are intelligent fools--a much more dangerous beast."

Intelligent fool = willfull ignorance = evil.

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