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Unmasking
political extortion

What do you get when you combine stupidity with bullying? The Kansas Legislature, of course.

Our sorry solons’ latest misadventure is a brazen attempt to extort Kansas towns into joining their ill-considered attempts to vindictively strike down scientifically valid precautions so they can score cheap political points with their know-nothing followers.

First, a gang of legislators had themselves declared the state’s COVID-19 star chamber, able to override anything the governor might do — not because she might be doing something wrong but because she’s not a member of the political party that they almost daily disgrace with their ill-conceived actions.

While some evidence suggests COVID-19 restrictions could be lessened a bit during a period of increased vaccination and decreased cases, we haven’t whipped the disease and its newfound variants yet.

Even if we had, the legislators who overturned continuation of a statewide mask mandate revealed they weren’t thinking about scientific evidence when they continued to spout like so many ditto-heads the insipidly stupid claim that mask-wearing is a matter of personal choice.

For the one-millionth time, wearing a mask isn’t about protecting yourself. It’s about making sure you don’t infect others, even if you’ve already been vaccinated.

While it may be a matter of choice whether you want to risk contracting a disease, there’s no God-given right to put others at risk by refusing to do a simple thing that, for most people, is no more than a minor inconvenience.

We could almost accept the legislators’ ultra-libertarian view that central government shouldn’t impose its will on people and smaller units of government until the legislators went on to introduce a proposed law designed to intimidate local governments to surrender to the legislators’ straitjacketed will.

Senate Bill 286 is a shocking attempt at a power grab that, if the governor, Congress, or president were to attempt, the redneck Republicans who rule the roost in Topeka would yell about in all capital letters on every last one of their anti-social media feeds.

The bill — which is nowhere near passing, is of questionable legality, probably would have very limited application, and undoubtedly would be vetoed — threatens to cut local tax revenue and permanently highjack needed federal aid to any town or county that refuses to lift its own mask mandate.

The transparently malicious rationale for doing this would be to set up a special fund to pay for lawsuits and special benefits to businesses forced to shut down because of enforcement of mask mandates or occupancy limits.

Let’s ignore the fact that there are almost none of these businesses hereabouts. Businesses, schools, and nearly everyone else may have been hurt but they have somehow managed to adapt for the common good. Few if any have totally surrendered to government intervention, especially since very few governments actual enforce mask mandates or occupancy limits, which is one of the requirements for withholding money.

Setting aside a huge sum of money — one-quarter of every dollar in federal aid that local units of government could receive — is thus unnecessary. A subsequent section of the bill makes it clear that isn’t the true reason why it would be set aside. Any money unnecessarily withheld from local government would go away forever — returned not to the towns and counties in need, once no lawsuits were filed, but rather sent into the state’s general fund.

The legislators could not more clearly have said that all they really want is to impose their will on local government.

In earlier actions to rescind mask mandates, we’ll give Hillsboro and Goessel the benefit of the doubt and say they did so because they thought it was relatively safe and they generally didn’t like to impose on citizens unless it was absolutely necessary.

Marion, however, has begun considering lifting its mask mandate not for those reasons but in fear of losing federal aid and tax revenue.

In some regards, the city’s administration became a co-conspirator in the know-nothing branch of the Republican Party’s attempt to extort the city into repealing its mask mandate.

Administrators did their due diligence by pointing out the threat, but by failing to put in context the likelihood that the threat is almost completely hollow, they almost succeeded in getting the mandate overturned. Fortunately, council member Ruth Herbel brought this neglected information to the council’s attention and, at least for two weeks, succeeded in stalling any city overreaction to the extortion.

Other parts of the extortion bill are equally insipid. If someone had no income for part of 2020 because of COVID restrictions, not only would he or she avoid income tax by having no income. The taxpayer also would receive a prorated refund of 2019 income taxes paid.

Likewise, property — which, except for agricultural land, is valued at its worth not its earning potential — could get property tax refunds even if its actual value was unchanged.

At first, this sounds like a plan that real Republican would criticize as something from tax-and-spend liberal. On further examination, it sounds as if some fat cats somewhere have figured out a loophole through which to squeeze their ample rear ends. And it only kicks in for those who supposedly were forced to lose business because a local government stopped them from operating when customers weren’t wearing masks.

As a society, we need to recover from COVID — and make sure we don’t prematurely stop safety precautions, even when they don’t seem quite as necessary. But we also need to recover from an even more deadly disease — the making of everything out to be some political opportunity to score points or get back at opponents. We wish in vain that the wearing of a face mask could prevent the spread of that disease, as well.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified April 8, 2021

 

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