In address, Brownback hints at cuts to come

01/13/2011 12:00 AM

01/13/2011 6:19 AM

Repeatedly proclaiming "the days of ever-expanding government are over," Gov. Sam Brownback vowed Wednesday to cut state spending by $750 million, shut eight state agencies and eliminate 2,000 unfilled government positions.

"These reductions will not be easy, but these reductions are necessary," he said in his first State of the State speech, delivered to a joint session of the two houses of the Legislature.

Brownback provided few details in the 26-minute speech and did not name the eight state agencies he plans to eliminate.

Details of the proposed cuts will likely emerge today with the release of his budget recommendation.

He did say he'll ask the Legislature to pass a spending-freeze bill by the end of the month that would allow the state to bank $35 million.

He also pledged to work toward "resetting the tax code" with an eye on reducing income tax rates — although he didn't say whose or by how much. He also said he wants allow businesses to immediately deduct a higher percentage of the cost of an investment.

And he vowed to target "corporate tax subsidies that are enjoyed by only a few," again without naming specifics.

The governor indicated a hope that the state can grow its way out of the current economic slump through some targeted investments.

Brownback said he will protect Wichita's Fair Fares program, which subsidizes low-cost air service to Mid-Continent Airport through $5 million from the state, which he called a "critical economic growth initiative" in south-central Kansas.

He also announced a three-year, $105 million program of support to universities to enhance job growth in major economic sectors such as aviation, cancer research, animal health and engineering. Universities will provide 50 percent of that funding through shifting expenses internally or raising money from the private sector, he said.

Reaction

When he welcomed representatives to the chamber Monday, House Speaker Rep. Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, lauded "the permanent reset of state government."

After the speech Wednesday, O'Neal said, "I've been waiting a long time for a governor like this who is going to take the bull by the horns and do the types of things that we need to grow ourselves out of this problem."

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said that over time the state has developed so many different agencies, each operating in its own "silo," that there probably are duplicate services.

"If they can go into different agencies and be more efficient and effective, I think that is a good idea," she said.

The three-fourths of a billion dollars in cuts is in the $13.6 billion "all funds" budget, which includes federal dollars and exceeds the state general fund budget of about $5 billion.

Disappearing federal stimulus dollars will account for a $492 million decrease in the state's budget.

"Overall, the all-funds budget is being reduced because the federal dollars are being reduced," McGinn said.

"The big snafu for us are the (social service) case loads; it could mean a slight increase in the state general fund even though there is a drop in the all funds," cautioned Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said the Democratic administrations of Mark Parkinson and Kathleen Sebelius had already cut more than $1 billion out of the state budget.

He said he thinks Republicans will need to find a balance to their passion for cutting expenditures "while still delivering expected services in a quality way."

Education

Brownback also challenged the Legislature to define the elusive term "suitable" education funding, which the state is constitutionally required to provide.

In the past, that definition has been left to courts, leading to rancorous lawsuits by school districts against the Legislature.

"Let the Legislature resolve school finance, not the courts, so we can send more money to the classroom, not the courtroom," Brownback said.

He said his budget will "provide school districts with more overall state funding and stabilize state support for higher education for the first time since the Great Recession began."

But with those districts facing the loss of $200 million in federal stimulus funds, Brownback didn't say how much of it he'll replace — leading Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley to declare that districts will face cuts or raising local property taxes.

"Can we shirk our constitutional responsibility to fund public education while passing the buck to local school boards?" Hensley said in the Democratic response to the governor's address. "At a time when so many families are struggling to make ends meet, the governor and the Legislature should not shift the burden onto local property taxpayers."

Hensley also said Democrats would oppose tax cuts for large corporations and their chief executives to attract businesses, which Hensley said would shift the burden to individual and small businesses.

"Kansas can continue to be business-friendly, but we also need to be family-friendly," he said.

Hensley also called on the Republican governor to work toward consensus solutions to the state's problems.

Abortion

On abortion, long the engine of Kansas conservative politics, Brownback drew a standing and stomping ovation from almost all Republicans — and some Democrats — when he asked the Legislature to "bring to my desk legislation that protects the unborn and establishes a culture of life in Kansas."

Trust Women, a new group supporting abortion rights in place of slain abortion provider George Tiller's Pro Kan Do Political Action Committee, immediately fired back.

"This evening, Governor Sam Brownback said that 'the days of ever-expanding government are over,' except he wants to expand government to dictate what women do with their own bodies," the group said in a statement.

"It's disappointing and hypocritical at best," said Julie Burkhart, a former Pro Kan Do chief who is founder and director of Trust Women.

Ward said he sees the abortion choice issue as important to the Republicans' base, but hopes the Legislature "doesn't get distracted" by that and other social issues.

"The voters have spoken loud and clear that the No. 1 issue is jobs and the economy," he said.

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