TOPEKA — Outgoing Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson said Monday that he is leaving the state in a strong financial position and that critics are trying to "rewrite history" if they argue otherwise.
During an interview Monday, Parkinson said he doesn't blame Republicans for saying Kansas faces big budget problems or environmentalists for criticizing him over a new coal-fired power plant. However, he says Kansas' finances are solid, largely because of a sales tax increase this year.
He said the state gained legislative approval for important "green" policies because of the deal he struck last year to allow the coal-fired plant in southwest Kansas.
Parkinson expressed no regrets about declining to run for governor this year. He said he doubts it would have helped fellow Democrats down the ticket, who he concedes were "wiped out" in a backlash against President Obama and congressional leaders.
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"I fully expect people to rewrite history once I leave office," Parkinson said. "I'd prefer that they wait until I've left."
Parkinson was elevated from lieutenant governor to governor in April 2009 when two-term Democrat Kathleen Sebelius resigned to become U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services. He plans to become president and chief executive of the Washington, D.C.-based American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.
In Kansas, he'll be succeeded by Republican Sam Brownback, a U.S. senator who helped lead the GOP to its first sweep of statewide and congressional offices since 1964.
For months, Parkinson's comments about the budget have stood in stark contrast to the assessments offered by Brownback and other Republicans.
Those Republicans rely on legislative researchers' projections of a gap of almost $500 million in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, with the state expecting no more federal stimulus dollars. Some GOP legislators also argue the tax increase didn't stabilize the budget so much as put off tough decisions.
"We kind of kicked the can ahead by taking the easy way out," said House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson. "I thought Kansas kind of missed an opportunity."
But Parkinson said legislative researchers' worst-case scenario doesn't assume any now-standard accounting moves, such as shifting highway and gambling funds into the state's main bank account, which can sustain education and social services.
"It is not a crisis," he said. "You can adopt this year's budget next year and be fine."
Meanwhile, environmentalists remain upset with Parkinson over his agreement with Sunflower Electric Power Corp., which hopes to build the new coal-fired power plant in Finney County. The Department of Health and Environment is considering a permit for the plant and plans to decide by the end of the year.
Scott Allegrucci, executive director of the Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy, acknowledged that the deal led to passage of renewable energy initiatives, such as a requirement that utilities generate 20 percent of their power from such sources by 2020. But he said the strength of the "green" policies has been exaggerated.
"I don't think they're nearly as credible or as significant as the governor has claimed," he said. "And what you're left with is the coal plant."
But Parkinson said he's proud of the agreement with Sunflower because it led legislators who support the utility to pass renewable energy initiatives that had been stalled.
"Utility companies will be building wind power for the next 10 years," Parkinson said.
Allegrucci and other environmentalists have said Parkinson appears to be pressuring KDHE into issuing a permit. The outgoing governor insisted the process "has been perfectly pure."
Parkinson said he expects to hear plenty of criticism of his administration once he leaves office. But, he said, he'll be amused rather than agitated.
"I'm not going to obsess over what people are saying about what we did," he said.