There was a reason Gov. Sam Brownback did not mention the budget mess facing Kansas in his State of the State Address on Tuesday night — we’re just not sure what it was.
It certainly wasn’t because he was afraid to look into the camera and stretch the boundaries of what should be factual information. It wasn’t because he would have difficulty placing blame on others for shortcomings of his own making. And it certainly wasn’t because he worried he might not have enough votes in the Legislature to carry out any of his skewed directives.
Perhaps even the governor was too embarrassed to make claims about how strong the economy is, then announce short-sighted, ill-advised plans to erase deficits for this year and next. Brownback plans to move yet another $25 million from the Bank of KDOT, another $50 million from the Children Initiatives Fund, and other transfers straight into the general fund to help cover the loss of income tax revenue — which was approved in 2012 and ’13 and the state’s best financial minds still can’t accurately predict — in addition to cutting payments to the state pension system, health coverage for low-income children, and prescription drugs for Medicaid recipients. Those budget “adjustments” were announced the next day; perhaps Brownback knew he couldn’t keep a straight face pronouncing the contradiction even to his most ardent fans.
Of course, the governor was almost giddy announcing all sorts of bad news as if it were victory.
“More than 388,000 low income Kansans now pay zero income taxes,” Brownback said. What he didn’t mention was the counter effect of higher sales taxes and the loss of certain deductions leaves those 388,000 people with less money in their pockets.
“KPERS is out of the bankruptcy zone,” he said. Omitted was the fact the state issued $1.5 billion in bonds to make payments, and is gambling the stock markets will provide high enough returns to cover that borrowing.
“More than half the people who were on welfare are now off it, and more importantly, they are getting out of poverty,” Brownback said. This is true, but for a different reason than implied. By tightening the restrictions on welfare payments, most of these individuals simply had their safety net stripped away.
Regarding public schools, the governor said “… of the more than $4 billion the state puts into education funding, not nearly enough goes toward instruction.” He wants lawmakers to rewrite the formula to reflect that “education is not done by money or buildings.”
Of course, instruction needs to take place inside buildings, and transportation needs to be provided, and hallways need sweeping, and boilers need replacing, etc., etc. Funny thing about his boast that the state is spending more on public education than ever before: The claim only is true because he included KPERS payments in the funding amount.
Brownback proudly proclaimed the largest graduating class of Kansas Highway Patrol officers in his bid to keep us safe. What he forgot to mention was funding cuts have forced KHP to reduce its ranks by 20 percent.
He blamed President Barack Obama for the health-care reforms Brownback says is the reason rural hospitals are struggling. Omitted was his steadfast refusal to expand Medicare in Kansas, which was necessary to receive funding. The state has passed on almost $1 billion at this point, and has denied insurance coverage for tens of thousands of Kansans.
Even the governor’s directive to cut off all funding for Planned Parenthood in an attempt to show “that every life has value” will not reduce the number of abortions. PP doesn’t use such money for that service. Instead, the cuts will result in fewer low-income women receiving basic health care.
The 30-minute speech was painful to hear. The governor is not willing to admit his income tax plan has failed, will continue to fail, and he will continue to offer the sun is shining in Kansas.
It isn’t. It will be up to lawmakers to put the brakes on this lunacy — something leadership has clearly signaled it’s not willing to do.
At least Brownback offered residents of this great state a blessing from God. It is clear Topeka has no interest in serving the people in a just, moral or compassionate manner.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry