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Unfit, Unfair

Last week's online Kansas City Star led with this headline: Unfit by any standards, legislators run amok."

The story began, "The Kansas Legislature has made many jaw-dropping moves these last few months, but a Senate vote this week leaves us especially agog. By a 25-14 vote, senators agreed to eliminate property taxes for many of the state's private gyms and health clubs."

Forget your workout at the local gym. Let's exercise our minds here. The trail to truth is full of crooks and snags, but together we can get there.

This exhibition of favoritism is worthy of outrage on its own merits. But with full knowledge of the Governor's dramatic giveaway of income taxes, the consequent impoverishment of the state, and the ensuing blow of the property tax hammer on all of us, this bill exempting a private enterprise, thus enriching them at our expense, is especially egregious.

As for the Senate, why would, and how could, they? As is evident elsewhere in state politics, $$ are involved--45 thousand of them, to be specific. Even more specifically, the $45,000 donated by Rodney Steven, part owner of Genesis Health Clubs, to Senate Republicans. His $$ influence was also evidenced in his and Genesis' home base, Wichita. He sought tax-free financing from the city for an expansion of his clubs in 2004, only to have the city back out of the deal. Steven filed a lawsuit over the perceived broken promise, but the city won.

That didn't stop his dogged determination to buy politicians, local or state. Steven and Genesis each gave maximum donations to Wichita Republican Sen. Michael O'Donnell, bolstering his campaign with $4,000 as he successfully unseated incumbent Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf (who has since left the Republican party) and beat Democrat Timothy Snow in the general election. Not content to stay local, he also sent maximum donations to Senate President Susan Wagle and Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce.

His thirst for special privilege was evidently not quenched by his liberation from state income taxes. The Governor's special tax program had already eliminated taxes on profits for 191,000 businesses, including several of Steven's Genesis Health Clubs.

Since then, in a supposed attempt to 'level the playing field,' Steven has sought to force the YMCA to pay tax or some payment in lieu of taxes. (Even though the Y, and other non-profits, make genuine efforts to make exercise affordable across a wide range of income levels.)

"Continuing to shrink the tax base in the face of severe spending cuts," said Steven in 2011, "really makes no sense." His efforts two years later make us doubt his sincerity. If actions speak louder than words, his more likely 2013 quote would be, "To hell with the tax base, we need our special privileges."

The property tax break will cost the state treasury an estimated $4 million. And that's not the half of it--well, a bit more than the half of it. The original proposal, rejected by the Senate, was for an additional $3.4 million in sales tax exemptions. It's like used-car dickering: Start with a really high price tag and make an outrageous cost more palatable. Except used-car for-profit rehabilitators are much more honest than Steven's used-body rehabilitation program, at state expense, i.e., at ours.

North Central Area Senators voting for it were Sens. Arpke, Bowers, and Ostmeyer. Senator Emler voted against it. We can't account for the other Senators' votes, but perhaps Senator Arpke's can be explained by his attitude toward corporations expressed in the recent legislative forum, to the effect that he thinks "corporations can do whatever they want with their money." And he seems eager to help them get more of ours to accomplish it.

Despite the Senate vote, it's not too late. SB72 has been referred to the House Taxation Committee. Contact your local representative and tell them such special breaks have no place in state policy.

Perhaps it's time for an Exodus from Genesis?

And as importantly, from the dogma that all private business is hallowed, and by definition provides much more efficient and superior service than publicly-funded entities--like community fitness centers and schools.

As for the Senate, as the Star article put it, "The new conservative majority has lost any standing to lecture Kansans about the need for fiscal responsibility."

SALINA, KaN. - Ted stopped by and shared the news. I never thought I would care about, let alone feel sorry for the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team. Another generation of kids young and old had been disillusioned.

Immediately I had flashbacks to my worst moments as a Royals' fan - the trade of the hometown boy and reigning Cy Young Award winner David Cone to the Yankees, the Johnny Damon trade, the Carlos Beltran trade, etc. , etc.

Oh, I almost forgot, Ted's news. The Brewers' star player, Prince Fielder, left his team and signed a $215 Million dollar contract with the Detroit Tigers. To add insult to injury, the Tigers play in the same division as the Royals.

tax-payer-man-barn-forked-tongue.jpgCOLBY, Kan. - The following is a little snip taken from a Kansas City Star article:

"The Revenue Department's analysis of the Brownback plan examined income tax data from 2009 and breaks down taxpayers into six income brackets. The only bracket with a tax increase ranges from zero up to $25,000.

"That group, made up of 564,328 tax filers, would pay $88.2 million more in taxes under the governor's tax plan. Meanwhile, the highest income bracket making $250,000 a year would pay $110 million less in taxes."

I don't have the resources at my finger tips to validate these figures. But, I've learned that tax reform reflects an advantage for those proposing the reform. Most of Gov. Brownback's agenda is benefiting the upper crust far more than the the hard tack biscuit eaters in the lower income brackets.

Campaign Baloney

WICHITA, Kan. - According to the Wichita Eagle, Congressman Mike Pompeo is announcing an 'America Flies' aviation campaign.

That's right. Pompeo seems to think Americans need to be educated about what an indispensable asset aviation is for Wichita and America as well.

Yes, just after Boeing stuck it to the people of Wichita and has run out of Dodge with its Tanker deal, Pompeo has shown real political courage by reminding us how much we rely on the aviation industry for jobs and the need to bow down and prostrate ourselves to the gods of aviation.

This "I love airplanes and flying along with my congressional job" campaign, is an about face from last week's performance of outrage and protestations. Pompeo, along with other politicians were lined up like jilted lovers.

What China's Progress Means

SALINA, Kan. - First impressions are lasting. And mine was very positive. In November I had the good fortune to be part of a group from Salina that traveled to China for ten days. After a fourteen-hour flight from Los Angeles we arrived at the Beijing International Airport and stepped into another world. Inside the spacious terminal everything was sparkling. The pristine scene contributed to our sense of excitement as we contemplated the adventure that lay ahead of us.

By now I've had time to reflect on the many experiences of our trip. And as I try to sum up my sense of this rising power I keep coming back to the feeling I had when I first arrived.

So, what'd you get for Christmas?

BOGUE, Kan. - Here's a three-part essay about gifts: wildly exaggerated, sadly expensive, and stupid.

Part Ikeystone-pipeline-map.jpg

You probably won't remember, but a couple of columns back I wrote that estimates of new jobs promised by the Keystone XL pipeline carrying tar sands oil varied wildly. Last week, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) claimed 20,000. So where'd he get that?
CNNMoney took a closer look. The 20,000 estimate comes from TransCanada, the corporation who would build the pipeline. They figured 13,000 construction jobs plus 7,000 manufacturing jobs making pipe, etc. But, whoa.

In 'TransCanada-speak' 20,000 means 10,000 jobs lasting for the two years of construction. Using the same formula, one job lasting 5 years would be 5 jobs.

Picking On Tim

COLBY, Kan. - I just read a recent contribution of Rep. Tim Huelscamp (KS-1) in our local paper. He was right when he said we had a spending problem, but he certainly wasn't very coherent in his math accounting for taxes and individual taxes paid.

When he validated that Warren Buffet appeared to only pay 17% taxes on his actual income, he was probably close. But when he claimed that the bottom 50% of earners paid an average of less than 2% of their annual income in taxes, he was a bit lacking in honest assessment of reality.

A Message from the SEA Party

BOGUE, Kan. - It was past time, he said.

"We're going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that have allowed some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share. In theory some of those loopholes were understandable, but in practice they sometimes make it possible for millionaires to pay nothing while a bus driver was paying ten percent of his salary and that's crazy." He paused.

Then with a wide grin, "You think the millionaire ought to pay more taxes than the bus driver ... or less?" A thunderous "MORE!" from the crowd.

It's Obama and his class war .... W-w-w-wait. You're shaking your head. Not Oba..? Wha... Reagan? Reagan, a Marxist economic justice'er?

Well, indeed. It was Ronald Reagan. He was speaking at Northside HIgh School in Atlanta on June 6, 1985, shortly after starting his second term.

But as always there's more to the story. Even as he grinned and wagged, the gap between the wealthiest and the rest of us kept right on growing while we were kept distracted by fear-mongering and ramped up jingoism. Today, the gap is wider than at any time since the Great Depression and, yes, keeps widening as you read.

Share Robert Reich's comments


Demagogues through history have known that big lies, repeated often enough, start being believed -- unless they're rebutted. These seven economic whoppers are just plain wrong. Make sure you know the truth - and spread it on. (The Seven Biggest Economic Lies, Robert Reich)

BOGUE, Kan. - The Occupy protesters are sometimes faulted for being "unfocused" -- meaning, I suppose that there are a variety of concerns -- thus far not sufficiently sewn together.

But I'd say the economic disparity between the rich and the rest of us -- now greater than at any time since the Great Depression and which has been widening since the "government is the problem" heyday of Grandpa Ronnie -- is the common denominator. If you agree with what Reich is saying, I hope you'll spread the word. Without a doubt, the banksters and corporate fat cats are nervous now, and will do all they can to discredit, disrupt, and dismantle any informed citizen activism threatening their power and greed. Part of that effort is to lie often and eagerly.

Reich will dismantle their propaganda ....

Occupy Wichita October 2

WICHITA, Kan. - The Occupy Wall Street movement sparked by demonstrations on Wall Street has spread across the country, even to Kansas.

Here is a video from Wichita's first occupy moment on Sunday, October 2.

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