Democrats are so outnumbered in Topeka that they can be easy to ignore. But give them credit for trying to focus the Legislature on what should be its top priority: jobs.
Democratic leaders outlined their “Kansas Jobs First” plan at press conferences Tuesday and at a meeting with The Eagle editorial board. Their proposals include expanding workforce training, repairing infrastructure and cracking down on the hiring of illegal immigrants and the misclassification of employees as independent contractors.
The focus is on what can be done to create jobs and stimulate the economy, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, told the editorial board.
One appealing idea is to fast-track at least $50 million worth of transportation projects that have been engineered but aren’t scheduled until late 2012 and 2013. Accelerating these projects could create jobs earlier and save money by taking advantage of low prices on materials.
“This is money that is available to us,” Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, told the editorial board.
Another proposal would require that at least 70 percent of a contractor’s or subcontractor’s employees working on a state contract be Kansas residents. There could be some practical problems with this requirement, though the Democrats make a compelling argument: Kansas tax dollars shouldn’t be going to hire workers from other states when workers here could perform the job.
The Democrats also want to lower the investment threshold requirements for a casino in southeast Kansas and for slot machines at racetracks in Crawford, Sedgwick and Wyandotte counties. And they want to use some gambling revenue for local infrastructure projects and to repair crumbling classrooms at Kansas Board of Regents institutions. However, Gov. Sam Brownback doesn’t want lawmakers to revisit expanded gambling during the coming session.
Business groups likely will oppose a proposal to require all public employers, included public contractors and subcontractors, to use the federal E-Verity system to determine the citizenship status of employees. However, the Democrats could have an unlikely ally in Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Brownback’s main jobs initiative is his yet-to-be-announced plan to reduce individual income taxes. Though tax policy is important, Davis said, companies looking to relocate also consider workforce training, transportation and other infrastructure, which the Democrats’ plan tries to address.
The Democrats know they are greatly outnumbered in the Legislature and that Republicans can block any or all of their plan. But they think it will be hard for the governor and GOP lawmakers to walk way from some of their ideas. And they hope that GOP lawmakers will focus on the message, not the messenger.
As House Assistant Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, aptly put it: “It’s time to put politics aside and focus on getting people back to work.”
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee