Gov. Sam Brownback recently told National Review that he’s “driving down the middle of the right side of the road,” suggesting he and the GOP-led Legislature are right where they need to be to reflect Kansans’ politics and priorities. But are they? Some recently released poll results should make them wonder, and consider pulling toward the middle of the road in the legislative session that starts in January.
Some of the numbers came from SurveyUSA, in multiple polls sponsored last week by KWCH, Channel 12. Not only did 59 and 56 percent of those polled say they disapproved of the job performance of Brownback and the Legislature, respectively, but 43 percent said they would vote for House Minority Leader Paul Davis rather than Brownback in the gubernatorial contest. Even if they are neck and neck statistically, it’s striking that a largely unknown Lawrence Democrat like Davis could show strength against a Republican governor who commanded 63 percent of the vote in 2010. Speaking of that vote, 25 percent of those who voted for Brownback back then told SurveyUSA they would rather switch next year.
Brownback also encountered some dissatisfied customers in the latest Kansas Speaks survey from the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University, with 44 percent of respondents saying they would vote to retain him “if the election was held today” and 35 percent satisfied with his job performance.
But the election is more than a year away. And it’s within the Kansas Speaks results on specific policy questions where the people seem to be telling their leaders something important. Among the findings:
• Two-thirds want to see increased state funding for K-12 public schools (up from 58 percent last year), while 50 percent say the same about social services and 45 percent about higher education (the last a 10-point jump from 2012); only 6 percent would favor cutting K-12 or social services.
• 61 percent think school districts should be able to sue the state for failing to meet the constitutional mandate to fund education – a majority likely to be unhappy if the governor and Legislature disregarded a court order to increase spending.
• 55 percent oppose allowing concealed-carry of guns in schools, hospitals and government buildings, in contrast to the 2013 Legislature’s steps to welcome more of it (and eventually force it on state universities).
• Nearly half want property taxes decreased – the opposite of what may happen as state income-tax cuts take effect and the burden of paying for services is pushed to local governments. Meanwhile, only 20 percent would gladly pay a higher sales tax – another possibility as Kansas lacks for revenue.
• 60 and 54 percent support raising taxes on large corporations and top earners, respectively (in contrast to the 2012 tax-cut plan).
More than 87 percent of those polled in Kansas Speaks said they find Kansas good or better as a place to live, a sentiment surely shared by their leaders in Topeka. Where they differ on policy may become clearer after the next legislative session – at the poll that counts next November.