Mark Hutton, a former Wichita-area legislator, announced his candidacy for governor Monday morning, and already has set out on a tour of the state for media appearances and public events.
Hutton, a conservative Republican, served in the Kansas Legislature for four years and chose not to seek re-election last fall. He worked 25 years in the construction industry, then began seeking his “higher calling,” he said.
“I’m running for governor because I believe the government of Kansas is not just broke, but it’s broken,” he said Wednesday during a stop in Hays. “I believe I’m uniquely qualified to provide the leadership we need to take care of that and to take us in a right direction. I started Hutton Construction 25 years ago with a $5 desk and an old pickup truck. Today it employs 250 people.”
After watching the last legislative session unfold, he decided to make a bid on a return to Topeka to help solve the state’s problems. The solution, in Hutton’s opinion, begins with reforming the state’s budget process.
The state’s budget has for many years been drafted by the governor’s office and presented to the Legislature early in the session.
“Then they get, really, a very limited amount of time to review what is a $14 billion budget; $6 billion of that is state general fund,” Hutton said. “The process is really fraught with all sorts of problems. There’s really no ability for the Legislature to get comfortable that that’s a valid, efficient budget.”
Hutton said he would seek to implement a “business approach” to drafting a budget, which would begin with meeting with legislative leadership to set funding priorities. Essential services should be funded first, followed by “critical needs” and then discretionary spending, he said.
During his time in the Legislature, Hutton opposed business income tax exemptions. When asked if he supported the reversal of income tax cuts implemented by Gov. Sam Brownback, he said he wouldn’t “second guess” that decision.
“I wasn’t there. I watched a lot of it carefully,” Hutton said. “I would like to have seen us deal with the issue sooner so that we didn’t have to do what we did, would be my preference. If we would have had more of a consensus to move quicker and correct some state issues as related to our income tax policy, I think we could have avoided some of that.”
Hutton said he would work to help build consensus in the Legislature on important issues, which undoubtedly include public school funding. He questioned whether the Supreme Court has authority to mandate a funding level, and said that question must be answered.
He believes better data needs to be collected to ascertain the outcomes and needs within the public school system.
“Let’s have the people in education that really understand it help us define what the metrics are, so they believe in them. And then we leave those alone and we start comparing those to the money we spend,” Hutton said. “We really don’t know if the money we’re spending is generating the outcomes that we believe we need. We really don’t know that increasing funding will increase a higher level of education. Some say that’s intuitive; others say it’s not.”
He describes himself as an advocate for small business, and said in his candidacy announcement speech that businesses face “too much red tape” that limits potential growth. While in the Legislature, he served on the House budget and insurance committees, and worked on unemployment insurance reforms and reducing worker’s compensation costs.
He also helped negotiate an agreement between insurance companies and the autism awareness lobby for ABA therapy coverage, and said he is greatly concerned about the state’s foster care shortage.
“We are so discouraged when we hear the stories about children sleeping in government offices. I think that’s just indicative of a system that’s been overridden by bureaucratic red tape,” he said.