Topeka — The Kansas Chamber of Commerce political action committee on Friday kicked off a fiery debate when it announced its endorsements of only so-called conservative Republicans in legislative races.
PAC Chairman Ivan Crossland said the chamber's PAC was committed to supporting candidates who believe in free market principles, a competitive tax climate and responsible government spending.
"During the difficult economic downturn, while businesses were tightening their belts to survive, some in the Kansas Senate and House opted for tax increases instead of responsible spending cuts," said Crossland.
Both the Kansas Democratic Party and a moderate Republican group blasted the Chamber PAC endorsements.
"The Kansas Chamber of Commerce's endorsement of only conservative Republican candidates demonstrates it no longer represents Kansas businesses or Kansas voters — the Kansas Chamber only works for Gov. Sam Brownback and his gang," said Dakota Loomis, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party.
"Candidates on this list can be trusted to continue pushing for reckless tax breaks for the wealthy while ignoring growing waiting lists and public schools on the brink of bankruptcy," Loomis said.
The Chamber has been vocal in its opposition to moderate Republicans and Democrats who in 2010 approved a temporary sales tax increase.
Supporters of the tax increase said it was needed to avoid permanent damage to schools, social services and public safety after six rounds of budget cuts during the Great Recession.
But Chamber officials said more budget cuts were needed.
After the 2010 election, however, the Chamber and Brownback, a Republican backed by the Chamber, supported making the temporary sales tax permanent as a way to help decrease income taxes.
The Legislature has so far rejected making the sales tax increase permanent, and the temporary portion of the sales tax is still scheduled to decrease in July 2013.
But Brownback did recently sign into law Chamber-backed tax cuts that will reduce income tax rates and eliminate income taxes on non-wage income for 191,000 business owners. Brownback says the cuts will boost the economy, but critics say the cuts will lead to major cuts to education and other areas of the budget.
A group of 55 former legislators called Traditional Republicans for Common Sense, has been highly critical of the tax cuts. Rochelle Chronister, a spokeswoman for the group, said the Kansas Chamber was selling "what amounts to modern-day, economic snake oil."
She added, "The Kansas Chamber has done a service for voters by helping identify the incumbents who helped create the largest deficit in the history of our state and the candidates that will continue to push an out-of-step, economic agenda that will force sales and property taxes to skyrocket." She said many local chambers and businesses have left the Kansas Chamber because it represents the interests of a select few and not the Kansas business community.
Earlier this month, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce decided not to renew its membership with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, saying that the state organization's work did not fit with the Lawrence group's mission.
In January, the Chamber PAC reported collecting $163,000 the previous year with the biggest donor being Wichita-based Koch Industries, which contributed more than $36,000. At that time, the PAC had donated $1,000 to eight Republican challengers of moderate Republicans n the Kansas Senate.
In Douglas County, the Chamber PAC announced Friday it has endorsed Anthony Brown, a state House member from Eudora, who is running for the Republican nomination for state Senate District 3, against James Tellefson of Leavenworth in the Aug. 7 primary. The winner will face state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, in the November general election.