In food tax vote, GOP puts hatred of Gov. Laura Kelly ahead of caring for Kansans

April 27, 2022 12:30 pm

Gov. Laura Kelly has proposed a full repeal of the state’s sales tax on food. Republicans in the House of Representatives refused. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Republicans in the Kansas House of Representatives hate Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly more than they want to help their constituents.

That’s the only conclusion after Tuesday’s morally degraded vote, when the House voted 48-74 against bringing a full food tax repeal bill to the floor. The GOP has claimed for years that it supports cutting sales taxes on food, but for some reason they’ve just never managed to do it. In past years, they’ve added it as a sweetener to corporate tax giveaways or just voted it down when proposed by Democrats.

What’s their reasoning this time?

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, told fellow Republicans “you’re not gonna want to cut these budgets. What do you think your schools are gonna say? I have never and I will not under any circumstances vote for a tax increase because you act irresponsibly.”

Aha. In other words, cutting a tax that burdens the poor and those with modest incomes is acting “irresponsibly.” Passing a billion-dollar tax write-off for a mystery megaproject? Oh, that’s totally OK. Smushing together pieces of 29 bills to create a single $90 million tax package? Why, that’s just dandy.

There's a word for what Landwehr and House leadership spread around freely yesterday, and dedicated Kansas gardeners use it to ensure healthy plant growth.

– Clay Wirestone

There’s a word for what Landwehr and House leadership spread around freely yesterday, and dedicated Kansas gardeners use it to ensure healthy plant growth.

What they really wanted to avoid was giving the governor a political win. Kelly has called for axing the tax in one form or another since her run in 2018. Given the state’s record budget surplus, overseen by Kelly and her careful financial management, the state can now afford a full repeal.

But Republicans know that will boost her reelection chances. They know she’s a canny politician who will give her opponent, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a gubernatorial run to remember. So they would rather penalize Kansans in need than help a Democrat.

It’s that simple. It’s that cowardly and craven.

Please don’t despair. Some form of food sales tax cut may still pass this session. The change will likely be smaller and gradual, but it will still help Kansans. Also, 10 Republicans joined Democrats in the House to support the full repeal. That shows a clear, continued interest in doing the right thing regardless of politics.

At the same time, don’t forget Tuesday’s vote. When legislators attack Kelly about the food tax (and they will), when they claim their hands were tied because of fiscal concerns (and they will), when they bemoan the sausage-making in Topeka (and they will), know that they could have done better.

They had the chance, with a single vote, to make things right for Kansans.

And a majority of Republicans decided not to.

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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. Clay spent 2017 to 2021 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.