GREAT BEND, Kan. - Kansas Senate Majority Leader Steve Morris (R-Hugoton) favors a tax increase. So why would a Republican in Western Kansas -- the most Republican area in the state -- want to raise taxes?
Because he's smart. Because Senator Morris cares more about the future of rural Kansas than his own political future. Because he knows that those suffering most from the draconian state budget cuts are those in rural Kansas. But maybe Senator Morris is smart like a fox, and knows the heart of Western Kansas. I suspect he does.
Republican voters are noticing the systematic defunding of their local school districts in Western Kansas by the Republican legislature. And they are showing up at legislative coffees. And they are ready to throw the bums out.
The solution offered by the right-wing House of Representatives? Make rural Kansans raise property taxes at the local level. This solution is about as popular as a hailstorm a week before harvest. Property taxes are already confiscatory in rural areas.
Republican house members from rural areas who are systematically defunding our schools, and offloading the problem on local school districts better enjoy the perks of the 2010 session. Because some of them won't be coming back in January.
You see, in any town of 10,000 or less, the school district is the biggest employer in town. Not only that, but the local school system ("Go Ellinwood Eagles") is the heart and soul of a small town. Small-towners can watch the mom-and-pop stores go out of business, and they frown. They can watch the local movie theater close down, and they frown. They can watch their bright young people migrate to Johnson County, and they frown.
But when you mess with a small town's schools, there will be hell to pay. Because when you give up on the schools, that's the end of a small town. People with nothing to lose are dangerous people. And no area of the state has higher voter participation than Western Kansas.
As a Democrat, I feel stupid for telling the Republicans this stuff. But saving our rural way of life is more important to me than which political party rules Topeka. And if something isn't done -- and I mean quick -- there is going to be hell to pay at the ballot box in November.
So my question to rural State Representatives is this: Who are you going to stand up for? Big Business, or your hometown? Right now you are standing up for your corporate paymasters, and all the special tax breaks you have given them through the years. And the chickens are going to come home to roost in November. It's not too late to do the right thing and repeal some of the sweetheart tax breaks you have given to your corporate paymasters over the last few years.
In the halls of the legislature, there is no lobbyist for John Q. Public. There is no lobbyist for Western Kansas. But voters have one weapon left: their votes on November 2. Closing down our rural schools, and making rural Kansas pay higher local property taxes isn't going to fly.
Localizing the tax burden for schools -- even though schools are a state duty under the state constitution -- is turning our state into the educational equivalent of Jim Crow. If you live in Johnson County, you simply get a better education than if you live in Johnson City, because the property tax base out here is getting thinner and thinner and thinner.
The most loyal Republicans in Kansas live in Western Kansas. But the Republican party in the Kansas House of Representatives is messing with our schools. And come November, Western Kansas Republican voters are going to mess with them.
Yes, I know voters are furious at President Obama. I know at the national level 2010 will probably be a Republican year in Kansas. But as voters work their way down the ballot, they will choose their local schools over party loyalty every time. The Republican legislature went one step too far. They messed with our schools. The last thing we have left.