Politics & Government

Checking the facts in Gov. Sam Brownback’s speech

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Topeka, Kan., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Topeka, Kan., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. AP

Gov. Sam Brownback touted aspects of his record in his State of the State speech. Eagle reporters checked some of his statements. Here’s what we found.

Taxes

Brownback: “More than 388,000 low-income Kansans now pay zero income tax.”

Fact check: True. The governor signed a bill last year that created a tax exemption for low-wage workers so that a married couple earning $24,500, a single parent earning $17,250 or a single person earning $10,250 will pay no income taxes when they file their taxes this year. The average savings per person will be about $48.

But the governor also approved a bill raising sales taxes from 6.15 to 6.5 percent, which some analysts say will result in a net tax increase for low-wage workers.

Welfare

Brownback: “More than half the people who were on welfare are now off it, and more importantly, they are getting out of poverty.”

Fact check: The first part of that statement is true. In 2011, the state had an average of 38,963 people relying on welfare each month. By 2015, the state had an average of only 15,008 people receiving welfare benefits each month.

But the statement that they are “getting out of poverty” is questionable when you look at federal data.

Only 9.6 percent of Kansas families left welfare because of new employment in 2013, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, compared with a national average of 18.7 percent. Brownback’s critics say the reason welfare rolls have dropped so steeply since he took office is that policy changes have made it more difficult to receive benefits.

Jobs

Brownback: “Working together, we’ve created an economic environment that has seen Kansas gain more than 78,000 private-sector jobs and achieve its lowest unemployment rate in 14 years.”

Fact check: The governor is correct that the state’s unemployment rate of 4 percent is a 14-year low.

The figure of 78,000 new private-sector jobs since he took office lacks context. It has coincided with 70 straight months of private-sector job growth nationally.

It also is slower growth than Brownback had promised. The state gained 10,000 private-sector jobs between November 2014 and November 2015. While campaigning for re-election, the governor promised to create 25,000 private-sector jobs a year during his second term.

The state has seen slower job growth than neighboring states, with the exception of Oklahoma. Kansas has a total job growth rate – a figure that includes both the public and private sector – of 0.5 percent over a 12-month period. Nebraska had a growth rate of 1.5 percent and Colorado of 1.8 percent during the same period, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Refugees

Brownback: “In November, in response to the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, I directed all state agencies to immediately cease the placement of refugees from countries where potential terrorists can arise, due to our inability to verify their background.”

Fact check: Brownback has signed two recent orders in relation to refugees – one in November concerning Syrian refugees and another last week concerning all refugees. His orders do not stop refugee placement in Kansas. That’s done through the federal government rather than state agencies. Brownback’s orders prevent state agencies from assisting the federal government in resettlement.

Public safety

Brownback: “To keep Kansas strong, we must also keep it safe. In December, the Kansas Highway Patrol graduated its 55th class of troopers. It was the largest class in recent years.”

Fact check: Twenty new troopers did graduate in December. The governor did not note that the patrol has 82 fewer troopers than it did 10 years ago. He also did not mention that KHP Superintendent Col. Mark Bruce wrote a letter to lawmakers last month asking for funding to hire more officers, contending that the short staffing is affecting the agency’s ability to keep highways safe.

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