For those who wonder how things went so wrong in Topeka during the last legislative session, consider those supposedly in charge. Trouble began when majority conservatives, unable to cope with even basic issues, invited headquarters to write their marching orders. Trouble was, which headquarters? The American Legislative Exchange Council, a far-right think tank based in Washington, started writing budget policy. Another group of conservatives asked the Kansas Policy Institute to weigh in. More budget law, tax cuts and spending reductions were churned out. Mike O’Neal and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, a Koch-affiliated organ, told legislators they were taking names; Americans for Prosperity, also Koch-financed, began lobbying, and in the shadows, watching, was Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform, the long-running legion of anti-tax fanatics. All that conservative policy (heavy tax cuts for the rich) put a giant sink-hole in what had been a sound state treasury. The Constitution says the state can’t spend money it doesn’t have. The budget must balance, by law.
Legislators looked about for answers. The brass among all their bosses and their various, cash-rich think-tanks, were at cross-purpose. Cut here. No, cut there. No, increase the sales tax. Soak the schools. No, throttle the welfare rolls. No, let property taxes inflate; let the locals pay the state’s bills.
ALEC put in its word. KPI issued more script. The Kochs were demanding. Norquist barked that all taxes were bad. Legislators were listening to them all, and hearing little. Not one Republican among them thought to ask the people.
None consulted those they supposedly represent. They wouldn’t, of course, because the electorate has other ideas, a return to better days, to a time before Gov. Sam Brownback sent the rich on their Glide Path to Zero income taxes. Ask the people who elected them? Even the thought gets a curious look. A lot of legislators think ALEC actually “elected” them. Or AFP. Or the Kochs. It was their money. It’s their legislature. But it’s our mess.