Former GOP legislators weigh in on income tax, school spending

Forty-eight ex-lawmakers sign letter asking for 'common sense' approach

0 | Advocacy, Budget, Legislature

Rochelle Chronister, formerly a Kansas legislator, cabinet member and chair of the Kansas Republican Party, spoke at a press conference on behalf of 48 former Republican lawmakers who have formed a group to fight proposals from the governor and Legislature to cut income taxes. The group says that cutting the income tax would undermine school funding and be unfair to poor and middle-income Kansans by shifting more of the cost of government to them while benefiting the wealthy. Chronister is pictured here a few minutes before the press conference began. Behind her left to right are former Sen. Carolyn Tillotson of Leavenworth, former Rep. Jayne Aylward of Salina, former House Speaker R.H. Miller of Wellington and former Rep. Fred Gatlin of Atwood.

Rochelle Chronister, formerly a Kansas legislator, cabinet member and chair of the Kansas Republican Party, spoke at a press conference on behalf of 48 former Republican lawmakers who have formed a group to fight proposals from the governor and Legislature to cut income taxes. The group says that cutting the income tax would undermine school funding and be unfair to poor and middle-income Kansans by shifting more of the cost of government to them while benefiting the wealthy. Chronister is pictured here a few minutes before the press conference began. Behind her left to right are former Sen. Carolyn Tillotson of Leavenworth, former Rep. Jayne Aylward of Salina, former House Speaker R.H. Miller of Wellington and former Rep. Fred Gatlin of Atwood.

— With an eye to influencing the Legislature in the wrap-up session and perhaps the upcoming elections, 48 former Republican lawmakers have formed a group advocating for more education spending and a "common sense" approach to taxes.

At a Statehouse press conference called to announce the formation of Traditional Republicans for Common Sense, former House Appropriations Chair Rochelle Chronister of Neodesha said the state was facing a "moral crisis," in the guise of tax plans that would eliminate or reduce the income tax, thereby shifting more of the cost of government from the wealthy to the poor while undermining funding for public schools.

"Asking the poorest to pay more and the richest to pay less is unfair," Chronister said.

She read from a three-page prepared statement on behalf of the group, urging policymakers to approve more money for public schools. Seated behind her were about a dozen former legislators including Sen. Carolyn Tillotson of Leavenworth and Reps. Fred Gatlin of Atwood, Jayne Aylward of Salina and Ginger Barr of Topeka.

Chronister said recent budget cuts driven by the recession had meant $18,000 less for every Kansas classroom but that the state now has money to put back into schools.

In the statement, the group told the governor and Legislature that "enough is enough."

"God and education have always been important to the people of our state, and the Kansas Constitution reminds us that the first responsibility of the Kansas Legislature is to ensure the education of our children," Chronister said.

There is a direct correlation between education spending and student performance, she said, citing different studies, including a 2006 report by the Legislature's Division of Post Audit.

"You can be more than 99 percent confident that there's a relationship between spending and outcomes," Chronister said.

She said the governor's plan to increase job growth by eliminating the income tax might work, but results could take years to see.

"The argument that new businesses and corporations would move to Kansas to provide new jobs might be true," she said. "However, there is sure to be a time span of five, 10 or maybe even 20 years before a significant increase happens. What do our children do for an education in that time? How do we pay for their educations? That is the moral dilemma."

Among those in the group are former Kansas House Speakers Wendell Lady of Overland Park, Jim Braden of Clay Center and R.H. Miller of Wellington, former U.S. Sen. Sheila Frahm of Colby and former Senate Majority Leader Fred Kerr of Pratt. (A full list of the group members is included in the group's press release.

Chronister was in the Legislature for 17 years before becoming secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services under then-Gov. Bill Graves. She also once served as chair of the Kansas Republican Party.



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