The Politics of SB 22

SB 22 is a bill originated in the Kansas Senate by Senate President Susan Wagle (R, 7%) to redistribute taxes to high earning individuals and multinational corporations. It passed the Senate 26-14, with a few Republicans bucking their leadership, but not enough margin to override a veto (in the Senate they need 27 votes). This past week, it passed the House, by a wider margin, 76-43. The House needs 84 votes to override a veto. There's been a lot of ink spilled and web pages refreshed on this topic, so we thought we'd take a minute to lay out the politics of this bill.

SB 22 is a postcard bill

This is what's called a postcard bill, where the sponsors create a bill so anathema to the other party, but with such a seemingly innocuous, or even wonderful premise that they can make the opponents look like ogres. We've seen several of those, from the "Adoption Protection Act" last year that only protected discrimination against LGBTQ+ foster parents, or this year's "Hope Scholarship Act" that purported to protect victims of bullying in public schools, but instead only opened them up to further marginalization, while doing nothing about bullying at all.

This bill is like that, in that on the surface it is about "returning money that doesn't belong to the state to Kansans," but in reality, takes money Kansans pay in taxes and gives most of it to corporations. What doesn't go there, would go to only the wealthiest of Kansans.

But the postcards write themselves. "Your legislator voted against a tax cut!"

Of course, we need to be clear that the other side does this, too. It's not an uncommon political ploy.

SB 22 (probably) won't become law

Passing as it did, in both chambers, without the votes to become law if it is vetoed by the Governor, this bill is not destined to pass. It likely never was, and the proponents surely understood that when they voted for it. Gov. Kelly has already signed one law she did not ask for, the $115 million payment to KPERS. Remember, she asked to re-amortize those payments, noting that payments this large are tough on a budget still recovering from Brownback's reckless tax cuts. So the likelihood of her signing another bill that further undercuts the state's ability to pay for needed services is slim.

So, did these votes on SB 22 mean anything?

They did, of course, and legislators should be held accountable for their voting decisions. But as you can see above, this wasn't a policy bill, but a politics bill. And so the votes need to be understood in that context. Every Democrat voted against SB 22, it was the right thing to do, and also clearly in line for them politically. Every hardline Republican voted for SB 22. We don't know if they believe it to be the right policy, but it was clearly right for them politically.

But several Republican legislators we might call centrist, who range in the middle ground of the MainStream score, also voted for SB 22. Do they think it is the right policy? In some cases, they may not (you should ask them if they represent you!). But they definitely made the decision that this was the vote they needed to take, politically. That may not be enough to exonerate them, but it certainly adds a wrinkle to be considered.

Okay, but will the veto override votes mean anything?

We don't know. As it stands now, nobody has to change their vote, and the bill will fail to override an expected veto. But some may see the margin, and hear from their constituents, and wonder if they should continue to support the bill. Some who supported it may get permission to vote against it this time, to inure themselves against a postcard in a MainStream-friendly district. We would expect several of those. Some who voted for it out of fear of reprisal from Leadership, may feel free to vote against it now, given its predetermined failure.

So, what is a voter to think?

At MainStream, where we are focused on the issues, and not the political parties, we often run into this sort of confusion. For party loyalists, it's clear. Any vote on this bill, whether the legislator was pressured or not, is a a clear indicator. For people trying to lower taxes for poorer Kansans, especially food taxes, or people trying to fund the basic obligations of state government, in an environment where uncompromising party line voting will never move these issues forward, it is more nuanced. This is some of the work MainStream does, trying to understand the meaning behind a vote, and help you understand what is really going on.

As always, we encourage you to get informed on the issues, and to get involved. Talk to your neighbors and peers. But most especially, talk to your Kansas Senator and your Kansas Representative. (Who are they? Find out at Ask them why they voted the way they did, and tell them how you wanted them to vote.

The best ones will have that conversation with you.

Do more than vote.

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