Opinion Columns & Blogs

Democrats are fighting for middle class

Jim Ward, Kansas House minority leader
Jim Ward, Kansas House minority leader

From Day 1 of this legislative session, Kansas Democrats have fought for comprehensive reform and smart policy that will end the state’s fiscal crisis, provide tax fairness and adequately fund our schools, while never ceasing in our advocacy for those who need it the most.

The Gov. Sam Brownback era of borrow-and-spend government has nearly bankrupted the state and placed undue burdens on working Kansans and local communities. The past seven years have crippled our ability to provide necessary services to our communities with disabilities and mental illness. We’ve been sweeping money from KPERS and KDOT investments just to pay the bills. All of this was done for the benefit of the richest Kansans.

The losers in this failed political experiment? Middle-class Kansans.

Tired of seeing their state destroyed by irresponsible ideologues who would dismantle public education and “drown government in a bathtub,” Kansans went to the polls during the 2016 election and voted for change.

Their expectations? Fix the tax loophole that allows 330,000 people to avoid paying any state income taxes, add back the child care tax credit, provide the property tax and mortgage deductions that were stripped in the 2012 bill, reinstate a third income tax bracket and adequately fund our schools.

It is impossible to adequately fund schools if we don’t adopt a tax policy that raises enough revenue to meet our obligations to our children.

The majority of people recognize the school finance formula as proposed today does not provide enough money to take care of schools. The passage of earlier versions of a tax formula would require a second bill to raise additional money for schools if the Supreme Court rules the school finance formula unconstitutional.

This is where consensus building becomes harder. Democrats strongly believe we have to get income tax reform right, and there’s only one chance to do that — now. Coming back for a special session to fund schools opens the door for regressive tax proposals like taxes on your utility rates, sales taxes on your haircuts, tattoos and manicures, and even possibly property tax increases.

Yes, the clock is ticking, but there’s still time to do what we need to do. With political will, we can improve on existing tax ideas so they do fund our obligations and don’t require a regressive tax increase later this summer.

Each day we’re in session a battle rages on for how best to solve our state’s problems. I reject the idea that my moderate Republican colleagues will side with ultra-conservatives to pass policies that continue the Brownback era over working with Democrats to find reasonable solutions.

Middle-class families have absorbed more than their fair share to support the policies of Brownback and the ultra-conservatives. It’s time the Legislature stepped up and enacted comprehensive income tax reform that requires everyone to pay their fair share and doesn’t rely on regressive taxes that weaken our middle class.

We look forward to working with legislators in the House and Senate to advance policies that fix the state’s problems, don’t rely on budget gimmicks and regressive taxes, keep schools open and ensure every Kansan has the opportunity to succeed.

Anything less abandons political courage and the responsibility we have as elected officials to make a difference for the betterment of the state as a whole.

Wichita Democrat Jim Ward is Kansas House minority leader.