Republicans hold the top and bottom slots in Kansas Policy Institute’s Freedom Index. Each year since 2012, KPI has rated legislators based on their commitment to economic freedom and constitutional principles. The higher a legislator’s score, the more often he or she voted in favor of these variables.
“We kind of explain it as, it’s not about D’s and R’s; it’s more about how each legislator views the role of government” said Dave Trabert, President of KPI.
KPI is tracking 158 pieces of legislation during the 2017 session, but legislators have only taken final votes on 23 of them so far.
A low freedom index score suggests a legislator takes a pro-government approach.
“They’re standing up for higher taxes, more spending, and ineffective government,” Trabert said of these legislators. “They’re putting the interest of the institutions–like school districts–ahead of students.”
Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, holds a high freedom index score this session.
“The primary role of government in our country is to protect the liberty of the people,” said Pilcher-Cook. “That is always foremost in my mind.”
Pilcher-Cook shares the highest index score with Republican Senators Rob Olsen of Olathe, Dennis Pyle of Hiawatha, and Caryn Tyson of Parker. The quartet of eastern Kansas Senators received a 93 percent. The lowest scorer in the Senate is also an eastern Kansas Republican–Sen. Dinah Sykes of Lenexa. Sykes earned a 7 percent.
In the House, Reps. Francis Awerkamp of St. Marys and Peter DeGraaf of Mulvane earned top scores of 93 percent. Stephanie Clayton of Overland Park earned the lowest score in the House, a 4 percent. She tied with Democratic House member John Alcala of Topeka.
From the scoring, KPI generated colored maps showing areas the more liberty-voting lawmakers represent. Green areas show where legislators earned higher scores, and red areas show mark those represented by lawmakers who vote more pro-government. Large swaths of western Kansas on the Senate map shade towards red.
Trabert is a lobbyist. He attended hearings and advocated for bills that advance limited government and reducing spending through the first part of the 2017 legislative session.
“I wasn’t surprised it was bad, but it was still a shock to see those maps,” Trabert said.
Trabert said that as candidates many of the new legislators campaigned on eliminating the LLC-tax incentive, but few campaigned on big tax increases. The Governor vetoed a bill to retroactively increase income tax rates and roll back the LLC-exemption. That vote weighed heavily on scores on the KPI Freedom Index.
“Candidates talked about changing the pass-through exemption, but very few people campaigned on big tax increases. They used phrases like, ‘I’m for responsible government,'” Trabert said.
Index numbers released last week are preliminary. Legislators’ scores will likely change as the session progresses.