TOPEKA — Previewing his priorities for the legislative session, Gov. Sam Brownback asked freshman lawmakers Tuesday to stand with him in cutting the size of government.
Support from the freshman class will be crucial for Brownback as he moves to implement his vision of a more austere state that costs less, taxes less and does less.
More than a third of this year’s senators and representatives are new to their jobs, following court-ordered redistricting last year and a largely successful effort by business interests to replace moderate Republicans with conservatives.
In the House, 49 of 125 representatives are freshmen; in the Senate, it’s 16 of 40.
Brownback said that in an era of global competitiveness, government must follow ongoing business trends toward cutting spending wherever possible.
“You’re seeing things in the United States that have to be globally competitive have really leaned down their operations and focused on what it is we’re about,” Brownback told the new lawmakers. “To me one of the missing things that government has not done, for the last 50 years probably, is look at its own efficiencies, or inefficiencies if you want to look at it that way.”
Now, he said, the austerity philosophy is starting to take hold in government, which has traditionally run on a “cost-plus” basis where the government decided what it needed to do and then levied the taxes to do it.
“What you’re seeing now taking place, and you’re right at the front end of it, is that government at all levels, local, state and soon to be federal, saying oh, wait a minute, that era is over,” Brownback said.
Like businesses, states will have to compete with each other and other countries to attract and keep businesses and people, he said.
“We’ve got to produce the best educational system, the best highways, the best public-safety structure we possibly can,” Brownback said. “And we’ve got to bring our price-point down so that we can have a tax structure that attracts people to the state of Kansas, cause they can go other places, and do, and we’ve seen that.”
One of Wichita’s new legislators, Republican Mark Kahrs, said he is looking forward to trying to meet the governor’s challenge as a member of the Appropriations Committee, a key panel in the crafting of the state budget.
Kahrs said he sees this as a “unique time to serve in the legislature” because of the large number of new members and while “facing deep financial crisis in our country and our state.”
“Where there is waste, we need to eliminate it and where we can consolidate, we need to consolidate,” Kahrs said.