Gov. Sam Brownback will deliver his third State of the State address on Tuesday. He will be standing before a legislative body that is ready and willing to apply conservative principles to governing Kansas on a day-to-day basis.
So what does this mean for Kansas’ governments?
Conservative principles begin with determining the desired level of taxation and then rightsizing government to match the amount of revenue generated. This is a break from the status quo, which focused on determining the appropriate level of government services and then levying the taxes to pay for these services.
Kansans saw this principle in action last year, when the Legislature lowered income-tax rates from 6.45 to 4.9 percent and reduced the tax rate to zero for pass-through entities (sole proprietors). As a consequence, the state’s general fund will have about $780 million less in annual revenue this year. Thus, despite a rosier economic forecast, a number of state agencies will be facing more budget cuts.
The next major principle is that government programs hurt the poor because they reduce individual self-reliance and increase the pathology of government dependency and entitlement. So, while “job creators” earn their tax cuts whether or not they create jobs, tax benefits for poorer Kansans to support child- and dependent-care services or sales-tax rebates for their food purchases are not really beneficial to them. By this same token, expanding Medicaid coverage to almost 220,000 lower-income Kansans who are currently without health insurance only feeds the growth of the entitlement society.
Another major principle is that privatization, competition and the profit motive lead to efficiency and better delivery of government services. Thus, the Brownback administration has contracted with private insurance companies for the delivery of Medicaid services to the 380,000 Kansans currently receiving benefits. The next stop may be K-12 education.
Although conservative principles of governance eschew the use of coercive government power to regulate the actions of individuals, especially in economic matters, this principle does not apply when it comes to the enforcement of a conservative vision of social order. Today’s conservatives believe that gays and lesbians violate God’s laws and, thus, do not deserve civil rights protection in housing, employment, marriage and child rearing. There is also an exception for regulating women’s reproductive rights. Thus, there will be continued attempts to limit women’s access to abortion services as much as possible, even if the state must spend millions on legal fees to defend these new restrictions in federal courts.
Finally, all Republicans must be willing to uphold these principles and a few more. If GOP officeholders do not toe the conservative line, they will be challenged and likely will lose in the Republican primary. This officially moves the Kansas GOP from being a big-tent party, where all are welcome as long as they are generally conservative, to a smaller-tent party, where adherence to these conservative principles is paramount.
With President Obama’s re-election, Kansas Republicans will have a common enemy who unites them and polarizes them to deep shades of red for the next four years. This is more than enough time for today’s conservative majority to fundamentally alter the shape and direction of Kansas’ governments for generations to come.