Kansas activists protest cuts to taxes, education funding

photo courtesy of The American Federation of Teachers Lisa Ochs, president of the Kansas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers speaks to supporters on Saturday in Topeka.

Over 150 protestors gathered in Topeka on Saturday for a rally on the State Capitol’s south steps. A coalition of activist groups, including the American Federation of Teachers and the Kansas Equality Coalition, were represented at the event.

“We had people for immigration, people against the war on women, and people with disabilities” said Bill Glover, president of K-State’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

Although protesters voiced an array of concerns, the general theme at the “Stand Up, Fight Back!” rally was that Kansas’ state legislature has gone too far in cutting taxes and spending.

“The Senate wants to let the sales tax expire,” Glover said. “If it did, there would be a four percent cut to higher education.”

Moreover, said Glover, Governor Brownback is threatening to eliminate the state’s income tax entirely.

“We can’t afford these cuts,” he said. “It’s a hole we’ll never recover from.”

He pointed to the condition of K-State’s buildings as evidence that universities need more state funding.

“These buildings are falling apart. Every time it rains, it drips. There are people in the summer working in buildings that are 150 degrees,” he said.

Lisa Ochs, state president of the American Federation of Teachers, said protesters sought “to shine a light on what Kansas state legislators are doing with the American Legislative Exchange Council.” The Council is a conservative organization that produces model legislation for legislators to use in their states.

“Their meetings are made to benefit corporations, and they are done in privacy,” Ochs said.

Specifically, Ochs pointed to proposed cuts to the income tax. She also objected to the proposed elimination of Kansas’ civil service system. Ochs said “the system provides important protections for state employees.” If it were cut, said Ochs, state employees would no longer be able to appeal in the face of termination.

“The legislators apparently didn’t understand that by doing that, they would risk losing federal dollars,” Ochs said.

Garrett Love, Majority Whip of the Kansas Senate, disagreed with the protesters.

“We had one of the highest income tax rates in the country before I was elected in 2010,” Love said. “We also had been losing tens of thousands of private sector jobs. In order to have strong colleges, schools and roads, we can’t have a deteriorating private sector.”

Love also said that a lower tax burden bolsters economic growth.

“It’s also important to have a strong economy so that college graduates, which I was just three years ago, can find jobs,” Love said.

Ochs encouraged all Kansans to get involved in state politics.

“The purpose behind the rally is that we want everyday citizens to become involved in the democratic process,” Ochs said. “For a people’s government to work, the people have to be involved.”