Gov. Sam Brownback could point to some real economic progress in his third State of the State speech Tuesday, as he suggested our “strong, blessed” state could have tax cuts and less government without sacrificing education or the needy. What was missing from his appealing vision was the math to make it all possible.
Perhaps that will all be clear Wednesday, as the administration presents a two-year budget blueprint to the Legislature.
But it wasn’t apparent Tuesday how Brownback, in the wake of income-tax cuts that will result in $700 million less revenue in fiscal 2014, intends to further reduce taxes, balance the budget, “meet the needs of our people,” lead job growth and energy independence, increase overall school funding and “see that our children can read,” “fully” fund infrastructure and leave a 7.5 percent ending balance. Just extending the 2010 sales-tax increase won’t provide enough ready cash.
And there was no direct acknowledgment that because a three-judge panel had just declared K-12 school funding to be unconstitutionally low, the state may be forced to find $440 million a year more for schools.
Instead, Brownback fired a brushback pitch at the state’s judiciary, calling for legislation to underscore that only lawmakers have the power of the purse and recommending that appellate judges be newly chosen either by direct elections or the federal model of executive nomination and Senate confirmation. Either method would needlessly politicize these crucial courts.
His plan to merge the Department of Transportation and the Kansas Turnpike Authority is interesting but could be a tough sell in some quarters, especially if the savings are scant.
Brownback was gracious in noting the historic rise of a woman, Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, to the job of Senate president and in honoring the historic length of service of her counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.
The governor’s attention to childhood poverty and the drought were welcome, as was his declaration that “our aircraft industry is back on the ascent, and Southwest Airlines is soon to land in Wichita.”
And Brownback’s words of advice to the plethora of newly elected lawmakers were well-said – if at odds with the scorched-earth tactics of the GOP primary campaigns, led by the governor, that put many of them in their seats.
“Listen, learn and lead so that we may move forward together towards a more prosperous, a more just and more decent Kansas,” he told them.
But the Kansas Democratic Party wasn’t far off in summing up the speech on Twitter as: “Raise sales tax, cut income taxes for rich, get rid of the judiciary, ignore education cuts, and become Texas.”
Over the coming session, what will matter more than Brownback’s words is whether the math works.