Opinion

Don’t look up: Kansas conservatives ready destructive asteroid of proposals that threaten us all

January 11, 2022 3:33 am

The 2022 Kansas legislative session will see destructive bills aplenty, Clay Wirestone writes. Here, state senators watch a clock while gathering for a group photo Monday at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

What’s the difference between a Kansas-sized asteroid barreling toward our state and the latest conservative proposals for our new legislative session?

The asteroid won’t insist it’s being helpful.

The space rock has other benefits, too. It will definitely lower taxes, as Republicans say they want, by obliterating all taxpayers and services. It will reduce the size of government by smashing Topeka into ashen gravel. And it will increase the number of small businesses by splintering every one of them into tiny shards.

Unfortunately, instant annihilation doesn’t seem imminent, so we have to contend with a wish list from legislators that would choke the life out of our state slowly instead. As Kansas Reflector reporters have documented over the past week, the 2022 session will see destructive bills aplenty. For now, let’s set aside critical race theory debates and undermining COVID-19 restrictions. Proposals dealing with voting and tax policy alone would be enough to make our state a national laughingstock.

Let’s tackle voting rights first.

Secretary of State Scott Schwab wants to add another way to toss registered Kansas voters off the rolls. This is a GOP fixation, possibly because it penalizes occasional voters and those folks who move frequently (in other words, potential Democrats).

“Currently, there are four reasons an election office can send a confirmation notice to a voter to ensure the accuracy of voter registration lists. If voters don’t respond, they can be removed from the voting list after missing two consecutive national general elections,” wrote Kansas Reflector’s Noah Taborda last week. “The secretary of state touted a proposed bill allowing election officials to send a notice after two years without voting activity.”

Schwab also calls for increased auditing of the state’s ballots, simultaneously pandering to former President Trump’s big lie about a stolen election and scaring away potential voters who don’t know much about the process. Who wants to potentially be audited?

These ideas might not be state-killing asteroids — more of a smattering of pebbles and golf ball-sized stones. Still, they’re a warning. We can’t ignore a state government official’s “election security” rhetoric. Schwab should be working tirelessly to ensure that more people throughout the state are able to vote and have those votes counted, not erecting miles of fencing to prevent nonexistent hippo attacks.

Tax proposals currently being floated from the right have the potential to not only damage the state’s economic prospects, but make us all nostalgic for the days of Gov. Sam ‘tax experiment’ Brownback.

– Clay Wirestone

On the other hand, tax proposals currently being floated from the right have the potential to not only damage the state’s economic prospects, but make us all nostalgic for the days of Gov. Sam “tax experiment” Brownback.

Kansas Reflector’s Tim Carpenter outlined the dizzying swirl of proposals, and I’d like to quote a handful of concerning phrases.

“A bill is coming to create one individual income tax bracket, rather than three, in Kansas.”

“There is interest in repealing the 1.5 mill property tax funneling money to state universities for building maintenance.”

“The Senate is leading the charge for a constitutional amendment aimed at restraining government growth. That could be done by placing caps on revenues or expenditures.”

“Another suggestion aimed at placing the bulging bureaucracy on a diet: Tie state government employment to the Kansas population.”

Gulp.

As someone who followed the apocalyptic news of Brownback’s tenure while I lived out of state, color me astonished that anyone can share these ideas with a straight face.

Any one of these proposals becoming law would be its own version of a space rock aimed straight at Kansas. (Full disclosure: I worked on state tax issues during my time in the nonprofit world.) A single tax bracket would charge millionaires and billionaires the same percentage of their income in state taxes as a clerk at the dollar store. That’s some old-fashioned reverse class warfare.

Repealing a property tax meant to maintain state university buildings? Nothing like targeting higher education to drive college graduates out of the state. How does that tie into long-term growth planning for Kansas, anyway?

As for a state constitutional amendment capping revenue or expenditures, anyone should be able to understand why it would be a catastrophically bad idea. Government takes up the slack when the rest of society either can’t or won’t act. We need public education and services, not to mention safety net programs such as food stamps and cash assistance. When the economy dips, a smart government response involves investment in all these areas.

That response would be nearly impossible with such an amendment in place, condemning the poorest Kansans to suffer during times of emergency.

Finally, connecting state government employment to population boggles the mind. Imagine if we had done so before the invention of cars, public highways and the internet. State government wouldn’t be able to respond to the emerging demands of society.

Perhaps that’s the point.

We can’t count on an asteroid to destroy our state and everything in it. But if enough Kansas legislators vote for bad bills that disenfranchise voters and dismantle state government, we can achieve the same outcome. A blasted, ruined plain where nothing lives or grows.

Happy 2022 legislative session, everyone!

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.

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