The Facts About Kansas Tax Proposals

By Posted 06 April 2017 | Comment

In a financial crisis, everyone should be asked to do more. Everyone – individuals and families of all income levels as well as businesses of all sizes.

It is unconscionable to give a free ride to some businesses and favor higher wage earners while proposing substantial increases on lower wage earners in order to address the fiscal crisis in Kansas.

For the past several weeks, various members of the Kansas Legislature have been discussing flat income tax plans to address the ongoing, multi-year State revenue crisis. All of the flat tax proposals being discussed are unacceptable as they all inflict an enormous tax increase on lower wage earners and result in a significant proportion of Kansans having higher income taxes than under the high pre-2013 rates (i.e., 3.5%, 6.25%, & 6.45% brackets).

Governor Brownback announced on Wednesday he endorses a 4.6% flat tax being discussed in the Kansas Senate. Here are the facts about this plan:

  • It raises income tax on families in the current lowest tax bracket (at or below $30,000) by 70% while those at much higher incomes see only a single digit percentage increase.
  • Starting at $30,000, this plan charges every family $570 more in taxes. Even if you make $100,000,000, you have the same tax bill increase as someone making $30,000 – $570.
  • Families making less than $50,000 in taxable income would be worse off than under the high pre-2013 income tax rates that so many in the Kansas Legislature protested were outrageously high.
  • This plan would mean higher tax rates than the pre-2013 rates for a significant proportion of Kansas families. Here’s more detail on taxable income.

Here is a chart outlining the impact of the 4.6% flat tax at various income levels:

Impact of proposed 4.6% flat tax

A whole range of flat tax percentages from 3.9% to 5% have been bantered about. They are all extremely problematic. Don’t be fooled by talk about rolling back food sales tax by 1%. If a family spends $500 on groceries per month, a 1% sales tax reduction would give them an extra $5. This is a drop in the bucket compared to a $570 income tax increase.

The February 2017 proposed transition back to three tax brackets (2.7%, 5.25%, and 5.45%) and roll back of the LLC business exemption that fell only a few votes short of a veto override in the Kansas Senate was a reasonable approach that should certainly be revisited. The impact of this plan on Kansas families is detailed in the chart below.

Impact of proposed progressive tax plan

From my perspective there are several goals a new tax plan should honor:

  • Ensure all individuals and families end up better off than under the previously much higher tax rates pre-2013.
  • Make all businesses (even LLCs/small businesses) contribute to the fiscal health of the state.
  • Generate the revenue necessary to address the ongoing and future fiscal shortfall.
  • Appropriately fund our important priorities.

In light of these goals, is it essential to end the free ride for small businesses and independent contractors earning pass through incomes via an LLC or S-corp. Everyone has a responsibility to help get the state back on track.

We should consider an everyone can do something approach to adjusting income taxes. I am including two illustrations below that allow everyone to contribute to addressing the crisis while limiting the severity of the impact for lower income Kansas families as well as keeping the impact across incomes at a reasonably similar level. The precise percentages could be adjusted to hit particular revenue targets. These simply illustrate two approaches that allow relatively proportional contributions to the crisis across income levels.

Everyone Contributes – Example 1 (Income up to $30,000 taxed at 2.85%, above this at 4.9%)

A more reasonable tax plan, example 1

Everyone Contributes – Example 2 (Up to $30,000: 2.85%, $30,000 to $100,000: 4.9%, over $100,000: 5.2%)

A more reasonable tax plan, example 2

If you agree with the priorities/goals I have shared and like one of my proposed models or a similar approach, please take the time to contact your State Representative and State Senator. If you are uncertain of their name or how to contact them, you can find out by entering your address into this website: – Find Your Legislator

Bernie Sanders is the Best Choice for 2016

By Posted 09 March 2016 | Comment

Senator Bernie Sanders’ victory in Michigan can put him on the path to overtaking Hillary Clinton provided that all of us reach out to encourage fellow Democrats with upcoming primaries and caucuses. Next up will be the Super Tuesday (March 15th) states – Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, Florida, and North Carolina. I sincerely hope that everyone who reads this will share it, especially with those who will vote in an upcoming primary or caucus.

I will outline the following in making the case for why Bernie is the better choice to be the nominee:

  • The distorted delegate presentation by the media meant to discourage supporters
  • Bernie’s unique strengths
  • Hillary’s significant vulnerabilities
  • Criticisms of Bernie pale in comparison
  • Why winning “white” states is a strength
  • Charisma will trump experience
  • Satisfying the mood of the electorate
  • Delegate Distortion by the Media

Please do not fall for the effort to inflate Clinton’s delegate totals. The media has been inappropriately lumping earned delegates and superdelegates together. I believe this is intended to demoralize Bernie’s supporters and discourage them from voting.

Currently, the earned delegate totals are 770 Clinton and 551 Sanders with 2,735 remaining. For the best and most accurate depiction of current delegate totals, I recommend Nate Silver’s 538 site.

Going forward, if Bernie were able to earn 54.1% of delegates from remaining caucuses and primaries, he would end up with more earned delegates than Hillary. Given his recent winning percentages of 68% in Kansas, 64% in Maine, and his unexpected victory in Michigan, there is absolutely no question he should stay in the race. He is still in the hunt for the nomination, despite how the media presents the situation.

Superdelegates are a footnote at this point, as they can switch their preference at any time until the convention. If Bernie were to end up with a majority of earned delegates, would the superdelegates really overrule the will of the Democratic voters to give the nomination to Hillary? I certainly hope they would never do such a thing.

Bernie’s Unique Strengths

Bernie has a number of important and unique strengths this cycle including:

  • The overwhelming mood of the 2016 electorate is anti-establishment which aligns with his message.
  • He does extremely well with Independent and working-class voters.
  • He speaks honestly about problems with money in politics, trade agreements, tax policies benefitting the wealthy, and Americans getting less than what other countries provide their citizens (e.g., health care, higher education, etc.).
  • He performs the best in all of the recent head-to-head polling against the Republican contenders.
  • He has a 51.4% favorability rating with an unfavorable percentage of only 38.6%. This means he has a +12.8 favorability differential which is a great advantage as there is a correlation between favorability and getting elected.

Hillary’s Vulnerabilities

Democrats must remain mindful of the very real vulnerabilities that Hillary Clinton has as a candidate. Some people believe we should blindly cheerlead, but I feel this is irresponsible. Some who are emotionally invested in Hillary’s candidacy fixate on sentiments like: She worked hard in 2008. It should be her turn. It’s time for a female President.

However, we must set emotion aside and carefully consider all candidate vulnerabilities and their potential impact in a general election. Hillary’s major vulnerabilities are:

  • Unfavorables above 50% (currently 53.8% unfavorable compared to 41.5% favorable). She would begin the general election campaign at around a –12.3 compared with Bernie’s +12.8, which is a major disadvantage.
  • She has performed worse than Bernie in head-to-head match up polling against the Republicans.
  • Hillary comes with significant baggage in the form of perceived scandals that will become the narrative in the general election campaign.
  • Low to medium information voters (which make up the majority of the electorate) will not delve into the details to parse the validity of various perceived scandals, they will absorb the sound bites and talking points.

In facing off against Hillary, Trump would raise every perceived scandal in Hillary and Bill Clinton’s past. Trump has already shown his readiness for this when Hillary stated Trump had a penchant for sexism and he fired back about Bill’s previous indiscretions. The Clinton campaign immediately disengaged because they knew they could not withstand the impact of this exchange if it continued. This one exchange took Bill Clinton’s favorability from the 50’s to the 30’s.

This previews what is to come if Hillary is the nominee. Trump would invoke any unsavory or questionable events that might undermine her such as the email controversy, Benghazi, and every older scandal. Some Democrats argue that many perceived scandals have no validity. For strategic purposes, this does not matter. The 2004 “Swift Boat Veterans” attack on John Kerry was completely fabricated and it still worked. Imagine what Trump will do with topics that have at least a grain of truth.

Attack lines that are repeated endlessly stick in the minds of voters. Relentless attacks about perceived scandals could damage Clinton’s precarious favorability increasing the likelihood that Trump could win the Presidency.

Criticisms of Bernie Pale in Comparison

A central criticism of Sanders is his identification as a Democratic Socialist. However, Republicans called President Obama a Socialist for 8 years and, in spite of this, he had two decisive victories which raises questions regarding the effectiveness of this attack. Moreover, voters are now accustomed to Democrats being referred to as Socialists. For this desensitized group, the label may have no impact. For others who view the President positively, the label might actually help Bernie.

Another criticism put forward by Clinton is that Sanders’ proposals would not pass Congress. But it’s fair to say that most of her proposals also would not pass the current Congress. Given the tremendous disdain those on the right have for Clinton, it seems reasonable to expect Republicans to redouble their efforts to block her agenda as they did with President Obama. So, the implication that a Hillary Presidency is a panacea for gridlock seems implausible. Furthermore, her message to aim lower so we might move one micron in a desirable direction is not inspiring and will do nothing to excite the base or boost turnout.

Bernie’s lofty positions could actually be beneficial due to the ramifications of persuasion theory. Door-in-the-face persuasion occurs when a large request increases the likelihood that a smaller request would be agreed upon. More progress is sometimes achieved by aiming for the stars initially which moves the eventual compromise position further ahead. Often a President makes only one step forward on important issues. Therefore, it’s best to make that step as significant as possible.

“White” States are Important

Bernie has received criticism for winning what are characterized as “white” states. For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Kansas demographically is about 86.8% white/caucasian.

For Democrats, the keys to winning the general are securing the “lean Democrat” states and winning enough of the “toss-up” states to get to 270 electoral votes. A very good map that outlines which states will be key in the general election can be found in this article on Politico. What is interesting about these states is that all of them have a greater proportion of white voters (per U.S. Census data) than the predicted average of 69% for the entire 2016 electorate.

Lean Democrat (% white): Wisconsin (88%) and Pennsylvania (83%)

Toss-Up States (% white): New Hampshire (94%), Virginia (71%), Ohio (83%), Florida (78%), Iowa (92%), Colorado (88%), Nevada (76%)

So, the fact that Bernie is popular in states with a larger proportion of white/caucasian residents is actually a significant strength. Even if he were to only secure the states above with percentages in the 80’s or above (like Kansas), he gets to 284 electoral votes and wins!

Hillary’s delegate advantage thus far has resulted largely because of her victories in southern states. It is important to remember that these states are classified as “safe Republican” and will never go to a Democratic candidate. So, her popularity among Democrats in these states is moot for winning a general election.

Charisma Trumps Experience (Pun Intended)

Democrats made the mistake of prioritizing the “strong resume” candidate before when they selected John Kerry as the nominee in 2004. Howard Dean was the right choice for that cycle but people allowed themselves to be brainwashed because he was over-exuberant at one rally. This set up the unfortunate match up between strong resume/policy knowledge and political charisma. We know how that ended – a second term for President George W. Bush.

While experts point to the value of contrast in political races, the contrast must showcase desirable qualities in order to be beneficial. If Clinton and Trump were competing in the general election, she would be the experienced, establishment candidate running against the authentic, political outsider who expresses concerns felt deeply by the electorate. This contrast would be a tremendous disadvantage in this anti-establishment cycle.

Satisfying the Mood of the 2016 Electorate

It is interesting to note that Sanders and Trump are the two favorite candidates of some voters. Given their political affiliation and issue positions differences, this has perplexed some in the political arena. However, voters are responding to key commonalities such as stating directly that the system is rigged, the middle-class has suffered, campaign finance corrupts politics, and this problematic state of affairs must be changed. The potent truth of these messages resonates in a way that nothing else has this cycle.

The bottom line is that Democrats cannot win a general election without satisfying the mood of the electorate. Presenting Hillary as the nominee in 2016 is akin to offering broccoli to someone craving chocolate. They won’t be satisfied. Sanders is viewed favorably, captures the frustration of the electorate in his messaging, and has comparatively little political baggage.

If Democrats want the stronger candidate to challenge Trump in a general election, it’s Bernie!

“Fair Tax” System is a Gift for the Wealthy

By Posted 01 September 2015 | 12 Comments

In August, Senator Jerry Moran and Representative Lynn Jenkins made presentations advocating for a fair tax plan, a 23% national sales tax designed to replace our income tax system. On the surface, this sounds appealing because it seems simple and easy. But, if this were implemented, it would be tremendously unfair to most Americans.

The primary problem with this approach is that no tax is paid on unspent income. This means that people at lower income levels would pay a much higher tax rate than those with larger incomes.

According to a 2012 article in The Atlantic, most individuals at the lowest income levels are required to spend almost all their income to make ends meet while those at higher income levels of $150,000+ have about 40% of their income remaining after paying for monthly needs.

For those who spend the vast majority of their income, a national fair tax would mean paying 23% in tax on virtually every dime they earn. On the other hand, those with high incomes could avoid paying taxes on huge portions of the their income by choosing to save rather than spend the money.

An individual making $30,000 a year who needed to spend everything would pay the full 23%. A couple making $60,000 who only needed to spend $50,000 to make ends meet would pay only 19% in taxes. A family with a higher income of $150,000 who only needed to spend $90,000 would pay a mere 13.8% tax rate.

Those who are extremely wealthy would see the biggest benefit. Imagine a very high income family making $3,000,000 yearly needed to spend only $600,000 to cover their costs. Such a family would pay only a 4.6% tax rate on their yearly income.

The bottom line is the higher an individual or family income and the greater proportion that is saved and not spent, the lower the overall tax rate.

This is a complete reversal of our current progressive income tax system that taxes all earned income and charges higher tax rates for those at higher income levels. Under a fair tax system, those at the bottom would pay the highest rates and those at the top could avoid substantial amounts of taxes and pay very low tax rates.

Not only would such a system hurt those with lower incomes by ensuring they pay the highest tax rates, but it could make costly items very difficult for some families to afford. Add 23% to a $500 appliance and the cost increases to $615. Add 23% to a $3,000 repair and the bill is $3,690. Moreover, the cost of a $25,000 new car would increase to $30,750 after adding federal sales taxes. And, don’t forget these cost examples don’t include the 8–10% we all pay in state and local sales taxes, which would be added on top of the 23% for the “fair tax”.

It is laughable that this plan is referred to as “fair”.

Those who favor these approaches surely realize that sharing the implications I have outlined would create outrage and opposition. This is precisely why those advocating for this terrible system use the strategic name “fair tax” and attempt to persuade people about how wonderfully easy such an approach would be.

Using crafty language to create a misleading positive impression for horrible proposals is rampant in today’s talking point, sound bite world. If something sounds too good to be true, you can be assured that there is something problematic under the surface.

Attempts are constantly underway to persuade us to support proposals that are not beneficial or in our best interests. Don’t be fooled by crafty, appealing names for terrible ideas.

Many politicians take advantage of the fact that people are very busy in their own lives and often don’t have time to delve into the details of proposed plans. They count on people accepting the spin and positive talking points offered up during the few minutes of news coverage that folks have time to listen to during the week.

Beware! When politicians are working hard to convince you that a plan is fantastic, that is your cue to dig a little deeper and examine who actually benefits. The vast majority of the time, it won’t be you!

Don’t be tricked by the ongoing avalanche of political BS!

Charisma is Priority One

By Posted 17 February 2015 | 10 Comments

Hate the reality all you want, but charisma and likability must be a screening criterion and litmus test for candidates in high profile races.

I’ve noticed a bit of a trend when I bring up the fact that low information voters choose candidates based on these type of peripheral variables to activist Democrats – many people ignore my comment and try not to talk about it.

I can just hear the thoughts running through people’s minds about how this shouldn’t be the case, knowledge and policy positions should be the most important, they would never pick a candidate based on non-substantive variables, etc. Yes – this may not be how you decide who to vote for but, like it or not, it is how a huge number of Americans decide.

Candidates for a party that has a huge registration deficit statewide (like Kansas Democrats) must use every advantage at their disposal to try to win. We can’t win elections by only appealing to high information voters. After losing the race, we can tell ourselves each and every day that we got the votes of the “smart people” that care about issues, but I doubt that will provide enough consolation. We must use what we know about how low information voters make choices to our advantage.

Folks like to talk about the revolutionary use of data within the Obama campaign. As someone who previously taught statistics, I love data more than most people and actually find it fun to analyze survey data. However, I also recognize that sitting around dissecting data isn’t going to get us anywhere unless we have a candidate who has the potential to win on stylistic variables. The Obama campaign used data to their great advantage, but President Obama was a charismatic star as a candidate. So, he had the “right stuff” for the data to make a difference in crafting a path to victory. If he had John Kerry’s or Mitt Romney’s personality, no amount of data leveraging would have won the race.

Candidates must have style and substance – not just substance. People can say style variables shouldn’t matter, but they do. So, we can either stick our heads in the sand and deny reality or start selecting candidates for big races who are more charismatic than the opposition. If we are equal or less on these variables, we will almost certainly lose.

To those who have a development program in mind for the long-time political players with substance who lack charisma, I’m sad to tell you it probably won’t work. For the most part, you can’t really teach charisma. The Republicans tried with Romney and he just ended up coming across bizarre and awkward when he was attempting to be something other than his robotic, rich guy self. You can improve someone’s public speaking abilities or policy knowledge. However, campaign staff are not miracle workers who can turn the socially lackluster into a charismatic superstar.

We need to pick candidates as we would choose a race horse if a huge monetary prize were on the line. In this scenario, you don’t enter the horse who has been around a long time simply because he’s seen a lot of race tracks, is a descendent of a winning horse, or because he’s a nice horse who eats carrots from your hand. If he can’t run fast enough to win, he’s not the right choice. A horse who is a strong, impressive runner that has the potential to outrun the rest of the field should be entered in the race. It doesn’t matter if the horse had winning parents or if it has a sweet and gentle carrot nibbling disposition. The potential to win is the only important consideration, if you want a shot at the prize.

Similarly, in the political arena, it comes down to who would be the strongest candidate for each race. This means appealing to both high and low information voters. We hurt the party when we choose candidates merely because they’ve been around the political scene for a long time or because we’re friends/friendly with them.

Put simply, choose winners to run and we’ll win more races.

Guide to Choosing a new KDP Chairperson

By Posted 21 January 2015 | Comment

As current KDP chair, Joan Wagnon, announced that she will be stepping down and that a new leader will be selected at Washington Days in early March, I wanted to put together a few thoughts for Democrats around the state to consider when selecting the next chair for the Kansas Democratic Party.

The Kansas Democratic Party needs a leader who:

Welcomes everyone to the party who wants to be involved

  • No exclusion, no cliques, no BS.
  • Respect and honor differences of perspective and approaches within the party.
  • No friendly fire – when your forces are outnumbered you shouldn’t shoot someone who wants to fight for your side.
  • Tactfully guides individuals toward roles that are a good fit for their strengths and encourages political and professional development of those with aspirations.

Helps the candidates who need the party most

  • Our current operation mirrors Republican party philosophy – nearly all of the benefits go to those at the top with the most money. How sadly ironic is this?
  • Candidates who can raise several hundred thousand or more are not those that need help from the KDP.
  • We should make an effort to ensure every Democratic candidate throughout the state can run a credible campaign.
  • We need 100+ strong campaigns each cycle not only 2 or 3.

Focuses on rebranding that disabuses Kansans of their false beliefs about Democrats

  • “Education, Opportunity, Responsibility” didn’t work. Some Democrats probably don’t even remember this let alone anyone not in the party.
  • According to some polls from 2014 cycle, Fox News is identified most often as the primary news source for Kansans. We must find an effective way to refute propaganda and redefine our brand.
  • Branding requires an advertising campaign including television ads. (Not yard signs with text too small to read from the street or Democrats announcing our brand to one another in internal meetings.)

Builds a strong collaboration with all county party organizations

  • County parties are very willing to help move the party forward but they need strong leadership including a plan of action, informational resources, and materials.
  • State party needs to encourage and help county parties engage in outreach and increase participation and donors.

Agrees that the KDP should sit on its own financial bottom

  • The KDP needs to operate on its own revenue.
  • No more “you’ll take what we give you (which might be nothing) and you’ll like it” approaches. It’s not acceptable to take money from candidates and not provide expected campaign services that benefit their campaign.
  • Efforts to broaden donor participation are vital – small, regular donations from ever-increasing numbers of Democrats around the state are key.
  • KDP staff needs to be right-sized for budget.

Is an inspirational speaker with a polished appearance

  • We need someone who looks and sounds like a leader.
  • Rallying rank and file Democrats requires someone who can make an inspirational impact.

Is willing to serve as a transformational leader but be uncompensated

  • This is a huge barrier to obtaining excellent leadership.
  • Sometimes you get what you pay for, unfortunately.

SapphireWire Podcast – Episode 10

By Posted 11 December 2014 | Comment

Lisa & Kyle continue their discussion of the intra-party dynamics that are stifling Democrats in Kansas – including finding and fostering inspiring candidates, candidates taking a stand and stating their beliefs, and the need for people to speak out to help turn things around.

Listen to this episode now:

Get The SapphireWire Podcast To Go:

Download Episode (mp3) | iTunes | RSS | Stitcher Radio

Links to topics covered in this episode: