Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer – who may soon be governor – on Friday said “what’s happened has happened” in response to a legislative session that saw the rollback of Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts and the creation of a new school funding formula that added spending.
Colyer told the Wichita Pachyderm Club he is more interested in where the state is headed now.
“I’m listening more now, and I think what we do is we change the tone … ” Colyer said.
The Legislature won a bruising fight with Brownback over a package of income tax increases intended to generate $1.2 billion over the next two years to fill a budget shortfall. Lawmakers also beefed up some tax deductions, but Brownback vetoed the bill, prompting the Legislature to override him.
Lawmakers also approved a new school finance formula. Brownback signed the bill, but said it did not substantially improve the funding system. The Kansas Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the new law’s constitutionality.
Colyer did not say whether he would run for governor when asked. But he signaled that once he becomes governor, citizens may sense a change in style, if not policy.
“I want Kansans to know there’s going to be somebody that’s going to listen to them, that we can trust, who will be very steady with them and a little less noise,” Colyer said.
Democrats say Colyer has been at Brownback’s side throughout the governor’s tax experiment and should be held accountable for the state budget problems they say it has caused. His close connection to Brownback could prove challenging if he runs for re-election.
The Democratic Governors Association called Colyer a “Brownback clone.”
“Governor Brownback leaves behind a smoldering fire in Kansas, and Jeff Colyer will only pour more gasoline on it,” said Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the organization. “Jeff Colyer has been the single biggest cheerleader of Governor Brownback’s disastrous policies that ruined Kansas’ economy.”
President Trump last week nominated Brownback to be ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. The position requires U.S. Senate confirmation, but in Kansas the announcement immediately turned attention to Colyer.
Colyer, a Johnson County plastic surgeon, has kept a mostly low profile in his time as lieutenant governor. But he gained attention for spearheading the creation of KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.
Obamacare has been a disaster for Kansas, Colyer said Friday. Republicans in Congress tried for much of the summer to repeal the health care law, but failed, stymied in part by moderate GOP lawmakers.
Colyer continues to think Congress may act.
“I still have hope that Washington is going to come through, that after the senators get back – and I’m hearing from them – they are talking to lieutenant governors and governors across the state,” Colyer said.
“We are talking to each other and we all think we have to – there’s a path forward for us.”