Kelly’s veto feels like a gamble

The Governor has won national acclaim for her “middle of the road” sloganeering ... A tax bill with bipartisan backing would seem to fit her brand.

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April 25, 2024 - 3:22 PM

Gov. Laura Kelly, center, tours a new education center at the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas headquarters in Pittsburg on Wednesday. The center includes a residency program from future physicians, nurses and dentists. Kelly used the tour as a means to promote Medicaid expansion, saying its failure has come at a particularly high cost to Southeast Kansas with the closure of several hospitals and clinics. Last December, Fort Scott’s Emergency Department folded. PHOTO/OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR

Do Kansas Democrats talk to each other? 

The question has to be asked after Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a giant tax-cut bill on Wednesday. The veto isn’t a huge surprise — the bill is a clear move toward the terrible flat tax concept that legislative Republicans have tried and failed repeatedly to get past the governor — except for one thing: Kelly’s fellow Democrats in the legislature had also thrown their support behind the bill. 

This wasn’t one of those bills they call “bipartisan” just because one or two representatives from the opposing party signed on. 

The tax cut passed in the Kansas House unanimously, with a “yes” from every Democrat present. 

You don’t see a governor and her party so completely at odds very often.

It’s odd, let’s say. So that’s one sign that something is amiss. 

Another: Listen to what House Minority Leader Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat, said Wednesday after Kelly’s veto announcement. 

“I want to back the governor,” Miller told The Star’s Jonathan Shorman. “The governor deserves all the credit for us being in this situation in terms of having money available to refund the people. So I respect her position. I just don’t know I want to gamble the way she is — and maybe it’s not gambling, maybe she’s got some arrangement with Republican leadership. But I’m not aware of any of those kinds of details.”

“Maybe she’s got some arrangement with Republican leadership.”

That seems unlikely. 

House Speaker Dan Hawkins spent Wednesday afternoon making clear his displeasure with the governor’s veto, saying she wasn’t “serious” about tax relief. 

Still, Miller’s speculation suggests something important. He’s the top Democrat in his chamber and — if we’re to take him at his word — he’s not entirely sure what Kelly, his fellow Democrat, is up to. 

It’s odd, let’s say. 

Kelly’s team, for what it’s worth, rejects the premise of this column. 

“Governor Kelly is, and always has been, willing to work with both Democrats and Republicans to ensure Kansans have fiscally responsible, sustainable tax cuts,” Will Lawrence, the governor’s chief of staff, said in an emailed statement. He added that there had been “ample communication between the governor and members of both parties” about her concerns that the bill cuts too deeply and risks the state’s financial stability. 

Fair enough. So what happens next? 

Kelly offered an alternative proposal on Wednesday — her plan features lower income tax rates, higher deductions, an end to state taxes on Social Security income and a move to exempt the first $125,000 of a home’s value from the state’s property tax levy. 

That sounds good. But it’s not terribly different from Kelly proposals that Republicans (who control the Kansas Legislature, after all) have dismissed before. 

So it’s difficult to see how we get from here to there. 

Maybe the veto does the trick and forces Republicans back to the table. 

But other scenarios seem just as likely. 

Perhaps the GOP overrides Kelly’s veto and gets to take primary credit for tax cuts, which will no doubt be popular with Kansas voters in November’s elections. 

That wouldn’t be great for Democrats who desperately want to put a dent in Republicans’ veto-proof majorities in the legislature. 

There’s a worse option, though: Maybe no deal gets done. And maybe Kansas Democrats head into November saddled with the reputation of a governor who blocked tax cuts. 

Like Miller said, it’s a gamble. “Tough, tough spot for Democrats,” he told Shorman. 

And a tough spot for Kelly. The governor has won national acclaim for her “middle of the road” sloganeering that has won her two terms as a Democratic governor in a deeply Republican state. A tax bill with bipartisan backing would seem to fit her brand. 

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