CLAY CENTER — U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran and about 100 constituents squeezed into Tasty Pastry Bakery for a town hall Saturday flavored with questions and comments on federal taxes, health care and tough lessons drawn from a trickle-down economic experiment by state government in Kansas.
A vocal contingent demanding Moran pledge to vote against tax reform favoring the well-heeled over the middle-class left the town-square bakery with the bitter taste of disappointment. The Republican senator was noncommittal on that quarrelsome point, but said his quest would remain a tax package that benefited the economy.
“The easiest way to say this is, I am for some tax bill. Can we find taxes to cut that grow the economy?” Moran said. “We don’t want to increase the debt and deficit as a result of tax cuts. My goal is to find out which taxes you cut can actually help create more jobs, better jobs, higher-paying jobs … and which ones don’t do that. Not all of them do that.”
“Sometimes Kansans tell me, ‘Just do something.’ The goal is not to just do something. The goal is to do something better than what we have,” he said.
The U.S. House narrowly approved a sweeping tax bill, which would enact $1.5 trillion in cuts for businesses and individuals. All four U.S. representatives from Kansas voted for legislation that also did away with popular credits and deductions to pay for lower tax rates.
A U.S. Senate committee approved a bill differing in substantial ways from the House blueprint. Senators raised the legislative hurdle by including in their version repeal of an Affordable Care Act provision requiring most people to have health insurance or pay a penalty.
Moran, periodically stepping aside near the bakery door to allow customers to enter or exit, said Senate and House members would need to be clever like a fox to defy the government’s habit of taking on new debt. He said the budget-busting experience of Kansas after eliminating state taxes on pass-through income earned by limited liability companies and other forms of business was shared as a cautionary tale among Senate colleagues in Washington, D.C.
“I’m also cognizant of what people saw happen in Kansas,” Moran said. “The issue of tax cuts would be easier if you actually had faith that Congress would hold the line on spending. It’s two components. It’s how much revenue you take in and how much money you continue to spend.”
In 2012, Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill that eliminated state income tax on more than 330,000 business owners. Revenue losses weren’t matched by economic gains, forcing lawmakers to balance the budget for several years with funds earmarked for highways, education and other programs. The 2017 Legislature overrode the GOP governor to repeal the LLC tax break and to raise individual income tax rates.
Moran said he would prefer the U.S. Senate drop from its bill the broadside against Obamacare and to address the health-care issue separately. He would spike a feature in the House bill that would tax stipends awarded college graduate students. Lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent can generate economic growth, he said.
“I’m interested in reducing the corporate tax rate, which will cause some of you, or many of you, to say I’m only interested in helping the wealthy. I have little interest, one way or the other, in the wealthy. But I do think that a tax code that encourages business to stay here and grow here is something we ought to try to pursue,” Moran said.
Hesston resident Del Hershberger, who works in community development with the Mennonite Church, said Moran needed to stand with Kansans earning moderate incomes and not the deep-pocket Washington lobbyists and donors.
“The main issue for me is advocating on behalf of the middle class and the poor,” Hershberger said.
Amelia Hicks and Rosa Terlazzo, philosophy professors from Manhattan, said details of the final bill mattered because that lengthy document would determine economic winners and losers. Terlazzo said she would be willing to pay higher taxes if the money was dedicated to improving the nation’s social safety net, but not if her sacrifice contributed to lowering of corporate tax rates.
“Why should we believe reducing the corporate tax rate on businesses is going to create jobs?” Hicks said.
Guadalupe Magdaleno, of Wichita, begged Moran to embrace immigration reform that addressed the future of 800,000 undocumented people brought to the United States as children by their parents. President Barack Obama shielded the children from deportation with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. President Donald Trump announced he would rescind DACA. Magdaleno said residents targeted by Trump should be offered a legal path to citizenship.
“I am for a DACA fix,” Moran said. “Sending kids home to a country that they have no real connection to is not a human, not an American principle.”
Manhattan retiree Frank Siegle attended the town hall to secure Moran’s pledge to oppose taxation of tuition waivers given graduate teaching assistants at colleges and universities. He said imposition of that tax would be a “catastrophe” for U.S. higher education.
Robynn Andracsek, of Olathe, and Shannon Ayers, of Overland Park, held signs a couple yards from Moran as he stepped out of the pastry shop. Their declarations: “Kansans don’t want tax cuts for millionaires” and “Health care for all Kansans.”
“The Kansas tax experiment failed,” Andracsek said. “Why would we do it on a national level?”