Politics & Government

Brownback ‘tossed every ally he had left under the bus’ in budget plan

Gov. Brownback's last State of the State address surprisingly all about education

In his last State of the State address, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said Tuesday that the state should add $600 million in education funding over the next five years.
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In his last State of the State address, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said Tuesday that the state should add $600 million in education funding over the next five years.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget doesn’t say how Kansas will pay for $400 million of the $600 million increase in school funding that he has proposed.

Republican leaders were furious when Brownback released the education funding plan during his State of the State speech Tuesday night without outlining how to pay for it. Their anger continued Wednesday.

Brownback said in the State of the State that his plan doesn’t include a tax increase. And while it doesn’t include one, it also doesn’t explain how most of the school funding increase would be funded.

The full budget plan released Wednesday says only how the state will fund the first year of an education spending increase that Brownback wants to spread over five years. Brownback’s proposal comes in response to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling this fall that found education spending inadequate under the state constitution.

“While I recognize the proposed budget has drawn criticism from legislators on both sides of the aisle, complying with the Supreme Court’s school finance decision is not optional. I support the rule of law, and I will not stand to see schools closed because of inaction on our part,” Brownback said in a statement late Wednesday.

The budget includes about $200 million in increased school funding next year, but $87 million of that has already been approved by lawmakers. In total, Brownback is proposing just over $500 million in new school spending.

State Budget Director Shawn Sullivan said the desire to avoid a tax increase played a large role in spreading out the increase over five years.

When asked what happens in 2020 and beyond, Sullivan emphasized the budget balances for two years. Strong revenue growth will help the cause, Sullivan said.

The lack of specifics upset some lawmakers.

“The governor has waved the white flag of surrender from the dome, and tossed every ally he had left under the bus ... Then put the bus in reverse ... Then lit fire to the bus,” Rep. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, said on Twitter.

Sullivan said the administration was willing to move forward and try to have a constructive conversation.

“Hopefully we can have a constructive dialogue about the education proposal and the rest of the budget,” Sullivan said. “And not just having press releases sent out where we’re throwing bombs at each other.”

Brownback in his statement echoed Sullivan’s comments, saying that it is “neither constructive nor wise to hold hostage other critical initiatives” over disagreement with his school funding proposal. The comment is a possible reference to a news release sent Tuesday by Senate Republican leaders in which they called for a pause on efforts to overhaul the state’s privatized Medicaid program, called KanCare.

Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Bunker Hill Republican who leads the House budget committee, was quick to challenge Sullivan over the proposal Wednesday morning.

He questioned the budget being able to balance in the outlying years.

“It’s not feasible, because it doesn’t balance in the outlying years,” Waymaster said.

By 2020, Kansas will run a deficit under the budget proposal, Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, suggested. The budget does not include any massive new sweeps of the highway fund or the state pension system to fund its spending increases.

Rep. Kristey Williams, an Augusta Republican on the House budget committee, said she’d like there to be an honest discussion, rather than “put the most hopeful, optimistic, blue skies budget offering that he possibly could.”

“It’s disappointing to hear and it’s also not practical,” Williams said after being asked about Brownback’s proposal. “Everybody can look at that budget and understand that we can’t actually do that without raising revenue at some level.”

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat who is running for governor, said the governor’s plan isn’t feasible.

“You can’t do something that is going to put us in the red so clearly,” Kelly said.

The $600 million figure is what is wanted by attorneys for school districts that have sued the state over funding. Sullivan acknowledged Brownback believes that is the amount necessary to satisfy the court.

“This is the evidence that we have at this point that the Supreme Court would accept somewhere around that number,” Sullivan said. “So that is what’s in this proposal.”

That stands in sharp contrast to some Republican lawmakers, who have called for holding the line on school funding. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, has said that further increases for schools would come at the expense of other areas of government that also need additional resources.

“It’s clearly one that we can’t afford without a major tax increase next year,” Wagle said of the budget on Tuesday.

Other lawmakers have questioned whether it’s possible to already know how much funding is needed for schools. Legislative leaders have approved funding to hire an expert to put together a report on how the Legislature should respond to the court ruling. That report likely won’t be completed until March.

“We really need to know if those initiatives are going to be the things that satisfy the courts,” said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Lawmakers were briefed on the budget proposal on Wednesday. Here are some other highlights:

Aviation

The budget would fully fund an existing career and technical education initiative, adding a little more than $15 million over two years. And the budget would add $5 million to the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University and $1.7 million to the National Center for Aviation Training at the Wichita Area Technical College.

In December, Spirit AeroSystems said it would add 1,000 jobs in Wichita and invest $1 billion in its factory.

“They’re very concerned about being able to have skilled labor for those 1,000 jobs,” Sullivan said.

In a statement Wednesday, Spirit called the funding “key components” of the company’s ability to stay on the cutting edge of technology and “fill the talent pipeline with thousands of workers” needed in the aviation industry.

Student Performance

The increased school funding comes with the expectation that Kansas will attain a 95 percent high school graduation rate by the 2022-23 school year. In 2015, the rate was around 85 percent.

Brownback also wants 75 percent of graduating seniors to go on to post-secondary education, up from the mid-40s today.

The budget also includes $3 million to improve high-speed internet access at schools.

Public Safety

The budget adds 13 positions to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to help assist with local investigations at a cost of $1.3 million. It also adds about $400,000 over two years to help aid in investigating internet crimes against children.

Brownback in his State of the State speech vowed to take an aggressiveness stance against human trafficking.

The budget also includes $4.9 million to continue pay raises for correctional officers that Brownback put into place earlier this year. Officers at El Dorado Correctional Facility received a 10 percent raise, while officers at other prisons received a 5 percent boost.

The Bottom Line

Total New Spending

  • $34.5 million in new spending proposed for the current fiscal year (fiscal year 2018, which began July 1, 2017)
  • $290 million in new spending proposed for next fiscal year (fiscal year 2019, which begins July 1, 2018)

Total Spending

  • $6.65 billion in current fiscal year
  • $6.89 billion next fiscal year

Total Anticipated Revenue

  • $6.92 billion in the current fiscal year
  • $7.04 billion next fiscal year

Projected Ending Balance

  • $266.6 million in current fiscal year, or 4 percent of the budget
  • $150.3 million next fiscal year, or 2.2 percent of the budget

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman

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