Three Kansas House representatives' views on a proposed $5.3 million tax break to benefit aerospace companies and employees revealed complexities of politicians shaping government investment in private industry.
Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Republican from Salina, home to Kansas State University's aviation campus, was author of the bill creating two income tax credits designed to boost profitability of the state's aviation businesses. One would be available to companies choosing to repay up to 50 percent of an employee's college loan debt. And the second, valued at $5,000 annually, would benefit graduates of aerospace or aviation programs in the state.
Both would be in place for a period of four years, with a potential of reducing state revenue more than $20 million.
"Aviation is our soul," said Claeys, denouncing in House debate the loss of 18,000 Kansas aviation jobs since 2005. "What is the cost of that? Let's get these jobs back. For 20 years, we have surrendered this fight."
The bill passed the Republican-led House this week on a vote of 106-18, but that wide margin belied consternation generated by House Bill 2118 as it moved to the Senate.
On the way, the House rejected amendments to double the state's child care tax credit and to create a tax credit to help state employees repay college debt. The House also repulsed a move to postpone a vote pending preparation of a solid financial analysis of the legislation.
Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat with a record of opposing proposals viewed by some as corporate welfare, said it was difficult for a legislator representing the state's aviation breadbasket in Sedgwick County to suggest the bill was flawed.
He said there was no evidence to support Claeys' contention the bill would have meaningful influence on employment within the aviation industry in Kansas. In addition, Carmichael said, the bill didn't place a cap on overall cost to the state treasury of the tax breaks.
In the end, Carmichael voted for it. He said it would be unfair to deny his House district a slice of the GOP's latest taxpayer-financed miscalculation.
"When tax money is being given away at the trough, I don’t want my constituents to miss out on the pork," he said. "If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!"
A House committee, driven by fiscal restraint, had removed a third tax credit from the bill that would have elevated the annual hit to the state by $3.3 million.
Rep. Paul Waggoner, a Republican from Hutchinson, voted against the bill. He said passage of "wrong-headed policy" by such a wide margin served as fresh evidence priorities of the House were in the wrong place.
He said tax dollars dedicated to the tax break ought to have been allocated to support employees in the Kansas Department of Corrections or to improve operations of Kansas law enforcement.
"The state of Kansas has a limited pool of tax monies," Waggoner said. "To take $5 million to supplement the incomes of highly paid employees or the bottom line of profitable multinational corporations is not thoughtful conservatism at its best. It is crony capitalism at its worse."