Secrets in the 33rd Senate race
By Rod Haxton, editor
Property taxes are the big issue in the Kansas Senate race for the 33rd District.
That’s according to the glossy, four-color flyer that arrived in the mail from none other than the Kansas Club for Growth. The flyer advised us to contact Larry Salmans and thank him for stopping higher property taxes.
It’s no surprise that this Koch-funded organization is supporting Salmans just as it did current Sen. Mitch Holmes. The arrival of this campaign literature strongly hints at what we have suspected all along.
First of all, a backroom deal was orchestrated that saw Holmes withdraw from the race at the last minute so Salmans could enter. Secondly, Salmans will do just what the Koch brothers tell him to do.
That’s no surprise and neither is Kansas Club for Growth’s ability to distort the truth.
Let’s begin with Salmans’ claim that he will “protect you from secret property tax increases.”
Transparency is the hallmark of local government. Schools, counties and cities publish their budgets with property tax information. It’s there for everyone to see.
You want secrets?
How about the state’s effort to keep secret the borrowing of another $400 million from the Kansas Department of Transportation (pushing total borrowing to $1.2 billion). It was only through the media’s diligence that the transaction was discovered.
How about state officials meeting behind closed doors to discuss the possibility of selling hundreds of millions of dollars in future payments to the Children’s Initiative Fund for far less than the settlement is worth?
How about the secret meetings in January 2012 between the governor and Republican legislative leaders at Cedar Crest? These certainly violated the intent, if not the letter, of the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
When it comes to “secrets,” the problem isn’t in our city halls or county courthouses.
Secrets aside, we’ll focus on Salmans claims that he is “stopping higher property taxes.”
We were hoping that Salmans’ election flyer would reveal how he accomplished this feat in the past, or intends to in the future. Perhaps he plans to eliminate the income tax exemptions that were approved in 2012 or maybe he is committed to putting hundreds of millions of dollars into public education.
Both would certainly be significant steps in “stopping higher property taxes.” Unfortunately, Salmans’ election flyer reveals no such strategy - past or future.
To further emphasize his conservative credentials, Salmans instead promises to “put his foot down to ensure that liberal politicians who want to raise property taxes must first have those tax hikes approved by local taxpayers.”
We would challenge Salmans to attend a city council, county commission or board of education meeting anywhere west of Hays and identify all the “liberal politicians” in the room.
Have property taxes increased? For some taxpayers, yes. That happens when a community or school district fulfills its obligation to main infrastructure and care for their employees.
Contrary to what Salmans would like you to believe, cities and counties aren’t the problem.
The biggest culprits are ultraconservatives within the Brownback Administration and the legislative leadership. They were responsible for exempting more than 330,000 business owners and farmers from income taxes. The result has been a state government starved for revenue and forced to cut funding for programs that assist children, low-income households, the elderly, mental health agencies, highways and our schools.
If schools, for example, are going to compensate for the loss of revenue they have two options: increase student fees (which most have) or increase property taxes through the local option budget (which all districts have done).
Boards of education have had no choice but to increase property taxes through the LOB in order to gain more operating funds in response to the state legislature’s refusal to provide adequate funding for public education.
You won’t find this small fact on any Kansas Club for Growth campaign material.
How local government spends our property tax dollars isn’t the biggest issue of this campaign. Anyone who allows themselves to fall for this ridiculous argument is being played for a fool.
KCG and Salmans support the massive income tax break that is wrecking the budget and projected to cost the state over $5 billion by 2019. Five percent of the 330,000-plus businesses get more than 83 percent of the tax savings.
It’s been a get-rich scheme for the wealthiest individuals and businesses in Kansas. And Salmans wants to talk about property taxes.
The fact is, neither Kansas Club for Growth nor Salmans have a plan to prevent higher property taxes because they have no plan to increase income taxes or to eliminate the tax exemption on businesses and farmers.
Likewise, we know of no local officials who are anxious to raise property taxes anymore than necessary. Their priorities are to keep local government efficient while providing the level of services which their constituents expect.
Misguided state fiscal policies have made that job more complicated and costly at the local level.
Kansas Club for Growth wants you to focus your attention on property taxes rather than a disastrous state tax policy. If elected to the state senate, you can rest assured that Larry Salmans will focus his attention where the Kansas Club for Growth tells him to.
And that is no secret.
Rod Haxton can be reached at email@example.com
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