Politics & Government

May 14, 2014

Brownback campaign fundraising letter misstates dates regarding state’s finances

A fundraising letter sent out by Gov. Sam Brownback’s re-election campaign misstates the amount of money that was in the state’s coffers the day Brownback took office.

A fundraising letter sent out by Gov. Sam Brownback’s re-election campaign misstates the amount of money that was in the state’s coffers the day Brownback took office.

The letter, sent out earlier this month and signed by the governor, refutes criticism from political opponents and solicits donations to the governor’s re-election campaign. It includes a list of accomplishments.

But a claim at the top of the list about how much more money is the state’s bank account since the governor took office mixes amounts with the wrong dates.

“When I was sworn in, State Treasurer Ron Estes informed me that the state had a shocking $876.05 in the bank. But as of January 1st, that amount has grown to $764 million on hand,” the letter states.

Cash on hand is how much money the state has available to write checks on a specific date. It fluctuates daily as the state takes in revenue and pays its bills.

The state did have $876 on hand at one point — at the end of fiscal 2010, six months before the governor took office.

At the beginning of January 2011, a week before Brownback took office, the state’s cash on hand was about $238 million, according to the nonpartisan Kansas Legislative Research Department.

The $764 million figure the letter cites for Jan. 1 is actually from July 30, 2013, the end of the fiscal year 2013, according to interim budget director Jon Hummel.

By Dec. 31, 2013, after months of spending, the state had about $280 million on hand, according to Legislative Research.

Mark Dugan, Brownback’s campaign manager, said the intent of the letter was to show the dire condition of the state’s finances before the governor took office.

“The letter’s intent was to say that the fiscal year that ended before the governor came into office, that he started with, had an $876 ending balance. And the fiscal year that just ended has a $764 million ending balance,” Dugan said.

He said the incorrect dates were an honest mistake, but that the overall point that the state’s finances improved under Brownback remains true.

“I don’t think anybody disputes that,” he said.

“Practically speaking, we were facing a budget shortfall when the governor came into office that he has unquestionably turned into a budget surplus. So that’s the point.”

Dugan said that although the letter is signed by the governor, it was written by his campaign team.

Chris Pumpelly, campaign spokesman for Paul Davis, voiced doubts that the mistake about dates happened unintentionally.

“They’ve been saying it since the week he came into office. … This is something that they’ve made a hallmark in this administration and it’s being exposed as just misdirection,” Pumpelly said.

“He’s misstating reality,” he added.

Brownback has repeatedly referenced the $876 figure, including in each State of the State address, as proof of how his policies have restored the state’s finances. But unlike in the letter, he referred to the fiscal year.

The state’s finances were already on the path to recovery before Brownback took office, according Duane Goossen, the state’s former budget director, because of a sales tax increase and improving economy.

“The balance in the state general fund that the governor quotes is something that occurred six months before he took office. And the solutions that pulled Kansas out of that situation were put in place by the 2010 Legislature,” said Goossen, who served under three governors, including Brownback’s predecessor, Mark Parkinson.

The letter also pushes against the characterization of Brownback’s tax cuts as an “experiment.”

“Sometimes I just have to smile when reporters and opponents try to label my ‘Road Map for Kansas’ – my plan to get Kansas growing – ‘an experiment,’ ” the opening sentence states.

The term “experiment” to describe Brownback’s income tax cuts actually came from the governor himself during a 2012 appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” when he said the tax cuts would be a “real live experiment.”

The line has since become a frequent target of Democrats, who say that the experiment has failed.

“I think what we’re saying is, and what the governor has said, is the well-tested theory that if you reduce taxes on Kansans, Kansans know how to spend that money better than the government,” Dugan said. “We’re confident that’s working, and we’re confident it’s going to continue to work.”

Moody’s Investor Service downgraded the state’s bond rating on May 1, citing the governor’s tax plan and the state’s sluggish economic recovery compared to neighboring states.

The fundraising letter is dated May 2.

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