Judging from Gov. Sam Brownback’s fifth State of the State address Thursday, Kansans might think the state faces a fiscal speed bump but no serious challenges – other than a sudden need to trash the school-finance formula so urgent and compelling that he proposes to do so without a plan to replace it.
He touted test scores early in the speech, but went on to blast the formula as if it were a scam of phony enrollment numbers, “gimmicks” and “bureaucratic games.”
In fact, the admittedly complex formula was crafted in good faith for good reasons by well-meaning leaders over many years, and multiple courts have concluded the problem is the state’s refusal to fund it fully.
Surely GOP legislators will think better of following their leader into the uncharted waters of a repeal, which could invite more litigation rather than less.
It also was disappointing to hear the governor jump on the bandwagon for moving spring municipal and school board elections to fall – an idea that local governments oppose.
Less surprising but also discouraging was the restatement of his aim of changing the selection of Kansas Supreme Court justices, either via the same unneeded reform he imposed on the Kansas Court of Appeals or – even worse – via the direct elections that have led to high-spending judicial races in other states.
And it was curious at best to hear the governor highlight the welcome efforts he and the Legislature recently have made to address the unfunded long-term liability of the state pension system, given that he just undermined it with a $40 million reduction in the state’s contribution for this year in an effort to close the budget hole. It’s hard to know whether his proposed constitutional amendment regarding the state’s debt management will reassure the credit rating agencies that have downgraded the state on his watch.
Brownback succeeded in downplaying the fiscal mess in two speeches this week, but will have to confront it in the two-year budget blueprint he releases Friday morning.
State of the State addresses are often feel-good events. But the party is over.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman