Statehouse scraps: Five takeaways from flat tax flop. Ignore turnaround talk. Read the dang column.

Statehouse scraps: Five takeaways from flat tax flop. Ignore turnaround talk. Read the dang column.

A view from inside the Kansas Statehouse rotunda reveals the multiple floors where legislators, advocates and the general public gather.

A view from inside the Kansas Statehouse rotunda reveals the multiple floors where legislators, advocates and the general public gather. (Clay Wirestone/Kansas Reflector)

Statehouse GOP leaders went all in on a flat tax bill this session, spending their precious political capital to benefit the state’s richest.

Whoops.

That bet turned sour Tuesday, with an attempt to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto falling short in the house. Not only did House Speaker Dan Hawkins lose the override, he lost votes from last month. Three additional Republicans voted against the plan, no doubt earning enmity from big business but proving the continued potency of fiscal issues in the Sunflower State.

Astute readers of Statehouse Scraps shouldn’t be surprised by this turn of events — I predicted as much the past two weeks.  I hear things. On the other hand, most anyone could have made similar predictions based on publicly reported news.

Here are five takeaways from the failed veto override.

1.) Gov. Laura Kelly might be the best politician in modern Kansas history.

I’ve praised her political skills before, but the Democratic governor has consistently outperformed her Republican rivals. After she unveiled her tax package last month with bipartisan support from two Republican and one independent state senator, the path to a successful override narrowed. Democratic Sen. David Haley appeared to be Republicans’ best hope in the Senate, but I doubt his vote was truly in play.

Credit the governor for playing this impeccably from the start. She set the terms of the debate, and the Legislature eventually surrendered. That leaves her in a commanding position for the rest of the session.

2.) Taxes remain politically treacherous in Kansas.

After former Gov. Sam Brownback’s “experiment” smashed into smithereens, most everyone in Kansas politics understood the perils of sweeping tax cuts. Legislators backed off, although they still tried mightily to enact corporate tax breaks. Pundits and lawmakers expected folks to eventually forget, however.

Nearly seven years after the experiment’s repeal, that hasn’t happened. Kansans don’t like tinkering with tax rates, and the charge of “Brownback 2.0” inevitably puts GOP leadership on the defensive. GOP leaders have tried to pass big tax cut packages almost every year of Kelly’s time in office. Over and over again, those packages fail. Yes, an odd conglomeration of random breaks made it through a couple of years ago, but the big asks crash and burn.

3.) Republicans changed their minds.

Three House Republicans voted for the package in January and then decided to vote against overriding the governor. Multiple organizations have started targeting conservatives, hoping to elect either moderates or Democrats in elections this year. Those three saw a reason to be concerned, or they simply thought better of their previous votes.

Whatever the case, those changes make Hawkins and Masterson look weak. Neither leader commanded his troops successfully, so both will be forced to chase Kelly the rest of the session. House leaders’ petulant statement after the failure only underlined their political powerlessness.

4.) It’s everyone for himself or herself.

What’s bad for the men at top might be good for the men and women below. Legislators have a chance to chart their own course for the rest of the session, if they want.

Speaking of Haley, I saw him exchange a fist bump with Republican Sen. John Doll on the Senate floor Tuesday, after the tax plan had failed in the House. I interpreted it to mean both men were celebrating the death of the tax plan. Perhaps that’s just my overactive imagination.

5.) Medicaid expansion might have the tiniest shot.

I don’t want to give anyone false hope here. But the instant the tax plan died I began to hear mutterings about Medicaid expansion. We have weeks to go in the session yet, and we know that the subject will come up in committee. Will the majority of lawmakers who support expansion find their collective courage and defy leadership to finally expand health insurance coverage for 152,000 of their fellow Kansans?

Don’t bet on this one. But they might give it a shot, and that’s worth watching too.

House Speaker Dan Hawkins stands on the floor of the House of Representatives before Tuesday's override vote.

House Speaker Dan Hawkins stands on the floor of the House of Representatives before Tuesday’s override vote. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

 

Turnaround tripe

Everyone who covers the Kansas Statehouse grumbles about “turnaround.” The word refers to the deadline for one chamber to pass bills and send them to the other chamber for consideration. The official Statehouse calendar defined that day as Friday.

In the real world, turnaround means whatever Statehouse leadership wants it to mean. Senate President Ty Masterson and Hawkins use it to shut down consideration of bills they don’t like, while simultaneously “blessing” bills they want debated in coming weeks. Certain exempt committees can continue their work. And the infamous “gut-and-go” process allows bills to be eviscerated and transformed into vehicles for whatever ludicrous policy leaders want throughout the session.

Folks sometimes tell me how complicated the Statehouse seems. Sure, bill numbers and committees and the large number of legislators can take you aback. But you’ll never go astray by remembering one simple fact: The majority makes the rules, and they can make them whatever they like.

Senate President Ty Masterson converses in the chamber on Jan. 17, 2024.

Senate President Ty Masterson converses in the chamber on Jan. 17, 2024. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

 

Butterfly in the sky

I posted a column this week that attracted passionate reactions.

That’s fine. I expected as much, writing about the Second Amendment in the wake of a mass shooting. Given that I expressed my opinion forcefully, others expressed themselves forcefully as well. Indeed, some folks shared thoughtful critiques that would warm the heart of any opinion editor. Thank goodness for the First Amendment, right?

What bothered me were the handful of social media posts and email messages from folks who obviously didn’t read the column. I doubt they made it past the headline. We don’t have time to rehash the piece right now, but you really need to read the whole thing to understand my intent. (Spoiler alert: Those 897 words include more than one main idea!)

Sure, not everyone has time to do that. But if you have the time to write an exclamation mark strewn response, please try to figure out what I actually wrote.

Is that too much to ask? Probably.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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