|David Kensinger, Kensinger-ing.|
Kensinger is the former chief of staff of Gov. Sam Brownback. He now serves as the chair of Brownback's PAC -- Roadmap Solutions. When he left the Governor's office, Kensinger told journalists that he would be free, in his new role, to advocate in the public square.
Apparently, he's also actively advocating in private as well. Last night, Kensinger abrasively called and texted members of the Kansas House who are (currently) standing firm against the Governor's proposal to increase the sales tax from 5.7 percent to 6.3 percent. (This sales tax stuff is complicated. Legislators are debating whether a sales tax, adopted in 2010, will sunset as planned or be extended.)
The Governor and the Senate want to extend the sales tax in exchange for lowering the income tax rate for the highest earners. The plan calls for lowering the income tax for all Kansans to zero in the future. (And if you believe that, I've got a sales tax increase to sell you that will sunset in a few years (wink, wink).
In the spirit of negotiations, there is a "compromise" on the table that would put the sales tax at an even 6 percent. It is Hurricane Disaster for middle class Kansans. Under the "compromise," Kansans would get two (TWO) tax increases: First, the sales tax bumps up another three-tenths of a percent. Meanwhile, the standard income tax deduction of $9,000 would be gutted. (I don't know by how much. I'm hearing different numbers -- $4,500? $6,500? Somewhere in between?)
But there is a contingent of freshmen House members rejecting the compromise. They include: Rep. J.R. Claeys of Salina; Travis Couture-Lovelady of Palco; Rep. Willie Dove of Bonner Springs; Rep. Ron Highland of Wamego; Rep. Mark Kahrs of Wichita; Rep. Jerry Lunn of Overland Park; Rep. Charles Macheers of Shawnee; and Rep. Josh Powell of Topeka. (If you're able, please thank them! It's gut-check time, and they're going to need to hear positive encouragement. )
The sixsome met with Gov. Brownback last week to attempt to reach some sort of compromise. I don't think it went how the Governor planned, because the six came out of the meeting even more resolved not to vote for any budget plan that includes a sales tax of more than 5.7 percent.
They can probably count on the Charlotte O'Hara treatment. This means a vicious primary with thousands of dollars thrown into the coffers of their primary opposition. (Although, I'm quietly told that some of the groups that assisted in the Charlotte O'Hara political knifing, like the Kansas Chamber, support the freshman House members' stance on the budget. Rumor has it that Americans for Prosperity-Kansas is also team Freshman House Six.)
So fast-forward to today. David Kensinger is not impressed.
Last night, pit-bull Kensinger blew up the phones of some select House members. Their crime? In addition to not supporting the Governor's plan, they spoke with a reporter at the Huffington Post about it.
I suspect one particular quote, from Claeys, absolutely sent the Governor into a rage, or as much of a rage as Gov. Brownback is capable of having. It probably angered a whole lot of members of the Senate, too.
We on the House side did not receive the same support in our races from the governor's side. We won election by going door to door and telling the voters our positions. We owe it to the people we serve to protect them from outrageous tax hikes. Some senators feel they owe their elections to the governor.
Yep. He said that out loud. To a reporter. D'oh!
The big fly in the budget soup is higher education funding. Gov. Brownback recently toured the state touting the need for increased spending on higher education. That he took this whirlwind statewide tour with the University of Kansas' Bernadette Gray-Little, a liberal if ever there was one, ought to tell my conservative friends a little something about what exactly the Governor's budget is protecting.
With a proposed 4 percent budget cut, KU is threatening to shutter a $700,000 medical school in Salina; gut half of a medical school in Wichita and fire 38 teachers in Kansas City.
The bottom line is, it's gut check time for members of the Kansas Legislature. Brownback is threatening to line item veto any cuts to higher education. Meanwhile, there are 72 members of the Kansas House, who at last count, refuse to vote for a sales tax increase.
So now legislators must decide: Are they sticking with the Governor? Or are they sticking with their constituents? Either way, they should expect to have a primary opponent come 2014.