Brownback delivers State of the State address

Derek Richardson

The first month of Sam Brownback’s second term as Kansas Governor has started with controversy. After narrowly winning reelection, he gave his State of the State address on Jan. 15, and announced plans for a slowing of the income tax reductions, as well as a call to scrap the current K­12 education funding formula, among other things.

After paying tribute to the armed services, the governor immediately went into where the state was when he first took office, describing what the biggest challenges were with more than 100,000 Kansans jobless and the State General Fund ending the 2010 fiscal year negative for the first time in state history.

“From this podium, I announced that the days of ever-expanding government were over,” Brownback said, referring to his first State of the State address.

By 2012, the State Legislature and the governor passed the largest tax cuts in the states history, which included lower income tax rates and placed the state on a path toward no income tax in the future. Many predicted that the drastic cut in income taxes would create a budget shortfall.

By the beginning of 2015, that shortfall was a stark reality. With a court mandate to boost funding of public schools, that shortfall is now over $710 million.

To boost revenue, the governor proposed a budget that dramatically slows the income tax reduction and ties further rate reductions to revenue increases.

To help increase revenue, the Governor proposed in his budget to increase taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, sometimes referred to as “sin taxes.”

The governor also announced an expansion to the Rural Opportunity Zones that was implemented in his first term to help economic growth in rural areas. The expansion would take the concept to the urban cores of the Wichita, Kansas City, and Topeka areas in order to draw more people to the state.

“To move forward, we need all of Kansas growing,” Brownback said.

Brownback also addressed the majority of the projected shortfall: the mandated increase of K­12 spending.

He proposed that the legislature repeal the current funding formula, which has been in place for over four decades. The current formula, according the governor, wrongly calculates that we have added more than 100,000 new students to public schools.

“That formula should reflect real-world costs and put dollars in classrooms with real students, not in bureaucracy and buildings and artificial gimmicks,” Brownback said.

Brownback suggested that the legislature appropriate money directly to school districts, and allow itself time to write a new funding formula that is accountable to local parents and voters.

That hasn’t sat well with some. In his response to the governor’s address, Sen. Anthony Hensley, the minority leader of the Kansas Senate stated that the voters of Kansas overwhelmingly approved the provision in the state constitution requiring financing of public schools.

“His supporters approved the single largest cut to public school funding in state history,” Hensley said, “This cut has threatened the quality of education Kansas children receive all across our state.”

Brownback also praised his administration and citizens for acting on developing a long-term vision for Kansas’ water supply. He urged lawmakers to act on the vision to ensure adequate water supplies throughout the entire state for the next 50 years.

In addition to the policy changes announced, the Brownback reelection campaign is under investigation by a federal grand jury certain loans made to the campaign by Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer.

“We’ve heard the governor’s take on the state of our state, but unfortunately, how can Kansas believe it when he has deliberately and repeatedly misled us,” Hensley said. “Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, the people of Kansas deserve to know the truth.”

The weekend after the governor’s address, The Salina Journal, The Associated Press and the Topeka Capital-Journal filed a lawsuit against the Brownback administration for refusing to release the names that were considered for two new Saline County Commissioner seats.

In November, the Saline County voters approved a measure to expand the County Commissioner’s office from three to five seats. Under Kansas law, the governor must appoint the new commissioners to fill the position until the next general election.

When The Salina Journal and The Associated Press asked for the names of those considered for the seat via the Kansas Open Records Act, their requests were denied by the governor’s office.