ELLIS — The next governor of Kansas will essentially have to rebuild a “decimated” state government and erase the black eye the Brownback administration has brought to the state, a candidate for the Republican nomination to the office said Saturday.
Topeka physican Jim Barnett conducted a town hall meeting Saturday morning at Ellis High School that was attended by approximately a dozen residents. He spoke and answered questions for nearly 90 minutes that focused on health care, economic development, state spending and education.
It was his third public stop in Ellis County since announcing his candidacy in June.
Barnett was the party’s nominee in 2006 against Kathleen Sebelius and also served as a state senator from 2001 to 2010.
“The next governor is going to have to restore basically a functioning state government,” he said.
And it won’t be easy.
“The mantra of most Republican candidates to solve all of our problems is we have to cut government and lower taxes. I’m going to tell you today that if anybody tells you that, they’re trying to pull the wool over your eyes because we have to restore our functioning government. We’re going to have to all sacrifice and pay taxes to get out of it,” he said.
He didn’t hold back in laying the blame.
“Our state spending was managed recklessly,” he said. “To spend every year $700 (million) to $800 million more than we have is incredibly reckless. That's what the governor, the lieutenant governor and the Legislature did year after year. Then they started raiding other funds like KDOT and raided everything they could until they couldn’t find anything else to raid, and now they're bonding money out, interest-only payments 20 years.”
He referenced $400 million in bonds the state issued for highway construction projects.
“In 20 years, those roads will be deteriorating again. So our children, grandchildren will be paying those interest-only bonds before they start paying principal. That's how reckless our government has gotten in Kansas,” he said.
Kansans must be willing to face that it will take at least a decade to build itself back up. That will start, in part, by changing the state’s reputation.
“Because of our current governor and past legislators, we've got a black eye in the nation — actually it's international. We've got to change that so that we're not a state that's laughed at, that's not a flyover state,” he said.
It will take the right person as governor, he said, but Kansans will lead the way.
“Kansas are smart. I think they’re ready for that kind of leadership in our state,” he said.
Barnett predicted Kansas will have a one-term governor after the next election, simply because of the tough decisions that person will have to make.
“It’s going to take multiple governors,” he said.
“We’ve got to pivot, we’ve got to start righting the ship. Hopefully I can do that, and in the following elections, the right people will continue to be elected,” he said.