April 19, 2014

Kansas Chamber of Commerce rebukes tax controversy

Fourteen chambers of commerce across the state issued a letter to the governor and state leadership last week urging the Legislature to consider tax increases to balance the budget next year. The letter drew a sharp rebuke from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

Gardner Area and Spring Hill Chambers of Commerce did not publicly endorse either side of the controversy.

“My membership would have to request that of me,” Spring Hill Chamber President Ann Jensen said. “Out of fairness to the Chamber membership, I would have to have their approval.”

Jensen said members in her chamber are from a number of area communities with a variety of differing concerns that aren’t easily addressed by one letter.

“There are just some of those things we don’t get involved in and that’s in part because we need to represent all of our businesses,” Jensen said.

Jensen said she wasn’t asked to be a party to the letter 14 chambers — which included chambers based in Olathe, Overland Park, Northeast Johnson County, Kansas City, Kan and the Greater Kansas City Chamber — sent to the governor and statewide leadership.

“We urge the Kansas Legislature and Governor to make cuts the state can withstand but also make the difficult decisions necessary to maintain our state’s quality of life for its citizens and for the future growth of Kansas,” the letter reads. “If revenues must be enhanced for basic government services, our chambers can support rational state revenue enhancements.”

Kent Beisner, interim Kansas Chamber President, said in a press release that the letter threw businesses under the bus.

“The Kansas Chamber of Commerce is disappointed to see a small minority of its members – 14 of 80 local chambers of commerce – send a letter to legislative leadership saying they believe their business members don’t pay enough in taxes.”

Beisner said many of the Kansas Chamber members also belong to local chambers. Such is not always the case in local chambers.“I think their membership is not always made up of just businesses – whether it’s school districts, city governments. Those public entities are looking for revenue,” Beisner said.

The Gardner Area Chamber of Commerce, for example, received $20,100 from the city of Gardner in 2007. A portion of the funds was used to organize the Festival on the Trails. The Spring Hill Chamber of Commerce received $600 from the city and $750 from the school district in 2007. The Gardner Edgerton School District paid the Gardner chamber $480 the same year.

Beisner also noted that several members of the 14-chamber member coalition, which includes the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce, the Emporia Area Chamber of Commerce and the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce, serve communities with public-funded universities.

Cathy Bennett, director of government relations at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, said she didn’t believe her chamber received any revenue from taxpayer-funded entities.
“Other Chambers might do that, but we don’t get money for economic development like many chambers do,” Bennett said. “We don’t get money from the county or the city. This is an agency run by business leaders.”

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce spoke with its Johnson County Leadership Council – comprised of C-level executives for Johnson County’s larger and more politically active businesses – before agreeing to sign on and help draft the letter to state leaders.

Gardner Area Chamber of Commerce President Steve Devore did not return calls for this story before press time.

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