Politics & Government

Brownback’s State of the State address: all-day kindergarten, budget

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback addresses the Kansas House and Senate on Tuesday night in Topeka during his State of the State address. Behind Brownback is Speaker of the House Ray Merrick (left) and Senate President Susan Wagle. ( Jan. 15, 2013)
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback addresses the Kansas House and Senate on Tuesday night in Topeka during his State of the State address. Behind Brownback is Speaker of the House Ray Merrick (left) and Senate President Susan Wagle. ( Jan. 15, 2013) The Wichita Eagle

In his State of the State address Wednesday night, Gov. Sam Brownback will call on the state to adopt all-day kindergarten, a plan he says will combat poverty and increase college and career readiness among Kansas youth.

But another education issue will hang over the governor’s proposals: the impact of an upcoming Supreme Court ruling on school funding on the state’s budget.

Brownback said last week he also would present adjustments to a two-year budget approved in the 2013 session. The governor earlier vetoed the corrections budget for fiscal 2015. He also has said he would restore higher education reductions.

His staff confirmed Tuesday that budget adjustments would be featured in the address. “Clearly, we will be proposing a new budget for FY 15 for the Department of Corrections,” wrote spokeswoman Sara Belfry in an e-mail.

She would not confirm whether higher education funding would be included in Brownback’s adjustments.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said last week that administrative and “back room” costs at universities had gone up.

“Nobody likes to be cut,” he said later, speaking more generally. “There isn’t any entity, business, government or anything else that can’t stand to be cut.”

President John Bardo of Wichita State University and other university presidents met privately with Brownback on Tuesday.

Andy Schlapp, WSU’s executive director of government relations, said Bardo was excited about the budget and the opportunities it presented for Wichita State. But he said he could not provide any details.

Bardo asked Wichita area legislators to support upgrades for an “innovation” campus at the university in the week before the session.

School finance

It was unclear how the impending school finance decision might affect the governor’s budget proposals.

“We aren’t speculating on the school finance decision,” Belfry said in an e-mail.

Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, said all of government is stuck in a holding pattern until the court hands down a decision.

“The decision could render anything from no impact to $600 million a year,” Bollier said. “That’s the problem. None of us know.”

Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane, said the Supreme Court should not influence the governor’s proposals. “It’s a separate branch of government,” he said.

He takes the same view when thinking of the governor’s budget proposals and the Legislature, explaining that the budget of any governor “rarely” passes immediately. DeGraaf called the Legislature “the holders of the purse.”

Belfry said providing all-day kindergarten is key to the state achieving the goals set forth in Brownback’s “Road Map for Kansas.”

“All day kindergarten goes at three of these goals: to reduce childhood poverty, increase the number of 4th graders reading at or above grade level, and to increase the percentage of high school graduates who are college or career ready,” she wrote.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said anyone who has studied all-day kindergarten supports it, explaining that educational research shows the benefits for long-term literacy development. “That’s never been the issue,” he said. “The issue is how do you pay for it? And this governor tends to take money from Peter to pay Paul.”

Brownback’s plan would phase in all-day kindergarten statewide with $16 million to begin all-day kindergarten next school year.

Bollier said she is curious whether the governor’s all-day kindergarten proposal will come with a plan on how to fund it. She said it’s not possible to fund the plan unless the state collects more revenue or makes cuts elsewhere.

“The reality is you can say you want anything when you’re a governor,” Bollier said. “But in reality it needs to be funded.”

On Tuesday, House leadership announced the formation of a special committee to study the implementation of all-day kindergarten.

“The goal of the committee is to ensure that taxpayers get the largest return on additional early childhood investment,” House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said in a statement.

Jobs in Kansas

Another issue Brownback probably will address is job creation. Secretary of Commerce Pat George updated the House and Senate commerce committees on the state’s economic development Tuesday, reviewing the state’s business incentives.

“I’m not privy to the state of the state, but I would assume that would be a pretty major theme,” he said.

At a small business forum in Kansas City last week, the governor said income tax exemptions have been key to creating jobs. “The biggest growth states overall have been no-income-tax states, so we want to keep getting that tax burden down.

“That attracts an entrepreneur class,” Brownback said. “And we hope that can continue to work.”

Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, who will challenge Brownback in November’s election, disputed the wisdom of the governor’s tax policy in a phone call last week.

He said that income tax cuts have caused many counties to increase property tax as a way of compensating for a loss of state funds. Davis said income tax cuts have benefited the wealthy, but rising property taxes have put on a strain on everyone else.

“My sense is that Kansans are getting fed up,” he said.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said the tax cuts were working.

“Now that we’ve lowered income tax, I’m very confident that people who are considering moving are going to stay and we will attract new growth simply because that tax is lower,” she said Tuesday.

“People tend to move where they keep more money in their pocket. So while it may be called an ‘experiment’ I think we already have statistical data that proves that works.”

Focus on veterans

Brownback also will use the speech to bring focus to needs of the state’s veterans, his staff said.

“Ensuring Kansas veterans are taken care of is not part of any specific goal but rather something we as Kansans do,” Belfry said. “Kansas is home to many veterans and active duty soldiers and Kansans expect to take care of those who have served their country.”

Last week, Brownback’s office announced that his fiscal 2015 budget proposals will include increased outreach to veterans, the opening of 40 new beds at the Kansas Home for Veterans in Winfield and expediting renovations of Kansas Soldiers Home at Fort Dodge through a $1.4 million investment.

“Who could be against veterans?” Ward asked in his Topeka office. “It’s a question of how do you pay for the real capital improvements at the veterans home that need to be done.”

Ward said Kansas needs to have a serious conversation about the issues facing the state, but he expects tomorrow night to be more of a celebration.

“The state of the states have really become like state of the unions, where you introduce heroes, and you talk about shared values and things we love about Kansas,” said Ward. “So I’m not really expecting the governor to do much in the way of discussing the problems that face Kansas.”

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