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Crazy election season in Kansas

9/2/2014

The silly season of fall politics is upon us, and the calendar hasn't even turned to the autumnal equinox.

The silly season of fall politics is upon us, and the calendar hasn't even turned to the autumnal equinox.

A recent poll in the race for Kansas secretary of state showed 37 percent of respondents think immigration is the top issue.

Those folks and their lack of public policy understanding scare me.

This is the Kansas secretary of state, not U.S. secretary of state. Even though the incumbent, Kris Kobach, would have us believe otherwise, his duties mostly are secretarial in nature. His job is to make elections run smoothly, keep corporate records straight and to audit cemetery maintenance funds, among other things.

It's not to enforce immigration law, and immigration has precious little to do with the office.

It doesn't even have much to do with the U.S. secretary of state, whose position has vital policy responsibilities.

Why the state's secretary of state is elected baffles me. Of course, Kansas elected a state printer up until after a major government reorganization in the '70s. The last state printer served out his term June 30, 1977.

But we still elect a lot of folks who should be appointed, including county clerks, treasurers and registers of deeds. None of those offices have responsibility for real policy, and that includes the secretary of state.

In the governor's race, the two sides have taken the discussion about tax policy to a new low instead of debating the merits of a tax scheme that inverts the Buffet rule, which is a policy proposed by Omaha investor Warren Buffet. Buffet said, basically, wealthy folks should pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than those who are much less fortunate.

Kansas turned that rule on its head, when Gov. Sam Brownback signed legislation exempting owners of pass-through business entities from income taxes beginning in 2013. Although the same legislation reduced income tax rates for working stiffs, we now have people who are quite wealthy business owners paying no state income taxes. Folks who get W-2 forms, though, still are paying a top rate of 4.8 percent. Yes, our secretaries and janitors are paying more in state income taxes than their more well-heeled employers.

Although the tax plan was touted as being a huge economic boost, there was precious little debate about the equity of it all.

So, in this campaign season, with the state facing a significant gap between its revenue and its expenses, the Democratic candidate for governor, state Rep. Paul Davis, put out a plan to freeze the current tax rates at current levels.

You would have thought he invited some poor kids from south of the border over for dinner.

At the request of Hutchinson's own Sen. Terry Bruce, the Kansas Legislative Research Department looked at the likely effect of Davis' proposal.

Legislative Research said Kansans would pay a cumulative $735 million more under his proposal than they would if -- as current law provides -- rates continue to decline.

Shocked, the Republicans declared themselves. Why does Paul Davis want to raise taxes on poor Kansans?

The Davis campaign was left to argue the semantics.

Keeping tax rates the same, his campaign crew argued, is not a tax increase. Besides, they said, Brownback and company did something similar when they tinkered with the sales tax rate. A supposedly temporary sales tax increase from a previous administration was supposed to expire. Instead of allowing the rate to return to its previous level, though, Brownback and Legislature decided to make part of the temporary increase permanent to offset some of the revenue loss from the income tax cuts.

This vacuous debate about what is or is not a tax cut fails to address the real issue. The tax plan Brownback and his conservative cohort gave us put the state in a horrible financial hole.

No protestations from the dominant party can make it otherwise.

Under the current projections, the state will end this fiscal year with only pocket change left in the bank. The outlook for next year is more ominous absent severe spending reductions.

For his part, Brownback vows to add 100,000 private sector jobs during his term if he is re-elected.

However -- and there is almost always a however -- some of those jobs, maybe most, will be held by the vaunted job-creators of small business we keep hearing about. And, given the tax scheme we now have, they will incorporate as pass-through entities so their owners will not pay any income taxes.

Makes no sense, just like most of the noise in politics these days.

Bruce Buchanan is president

and CEO of Harris Enterprises, the parent company of The Hays Daily News.

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