TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback devoted much of his State of the State speech Tuesday to defending his accomplishments as governor, seeking more money to go to classroom instruction and calling for changes to the way state Supreme Court justices are selected.
Brownback also struck at Planned Parenthood, announcing he has blocked taxpayer funds from going to the organization through the state’s Medicaid program.
And he accused President Barack Obama of failing to lead on security issues.
The second-term governor, speaking before lawmakers, made no mention of the budget shortfall facing Kansas — up to $19 million in the current fiscal year and at least $175 million next year. But Brownback did tout the state’s tax policy.
“We have controlled spending, reformed tax policy and reduced burdensome regulations,” Brownback said. “We have consolidated agencies, eliminated wasteful programs and overhauled workers’ compensation.”
The state of the state is strong, Brownback said.
Democrats didn’t warm up to Brownback’s vision. In the party’s response to the speech, House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, said the governor is only offering more of the same.
“It’s continued mismanagement of our state budget and economy, leading to further cuts in public education and infrastructure, putting at risk the safety of Kansans and their very future,” Burroughs said.
Kansas spends approximately $4 billion a year on education, but Brownback said not nearly enough goes toward instruction. The current situation is highly inefficient, “if not immoral,” he said, and denies Kansans from putting education dollars behind good teachers.
Education in the 21st century can’t be based on 19th century models, the governor said. Education isn’t done by money or buildings — it is done by teachers, he said.
Last year, Brownback and the Legislature repealed the existing school funding formula, which they called complicated, and installed a block-grant funding system. The block grants will expire in two years but are supposed to give lawmakers time to create a new formula.
“I call on the Legislature to design a new education funding system that puts more of our money into instruction,” Brownback said, “that provides bonuses for exceptional teachers and recognizes their true value to our future and the souls of our students.”
Brownback, as he has in years past, called for Kansas to change the way its Supreme Court justices are selected. Kansas is the only state where their selection is controlled by a “handful of lawyers.”
The justices potentially could upend the legislative session this spring if they rule on pending school finance litigation and order additional funds to education.
The governor said he wants lawmakers to send a state constitutional amendment to voters to create a more democratic selection process for justices. The speech didn’t contain specifics.
Brownback announced he has directed Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Susan Mosier to ensure no taxpayer funds go to Planned Parenthood through the state’s Medicaid program. He also said he welcomes legislation to place the prohibition into state law.
The directive is spurred, Brownback said, by Planned Parenthood’s “trafficking of baby body parts” that he called antithetical to belief in human dignity.
Planned Parenthood came under intense criticism last year after an anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress, released a number of videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood executives engaged in the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood has pushed back aggressively against the allegation. An analysis commissioned by Planned Parenthood found the videos had been manipulated.
“Every year since I became governor we have enacted pro-life legislation,” Brownback said. “We have come a long way, but there is still work to be done.”
Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Elise Higgins said the organization receives approximately $61,000 annually through the state’s Medicaid program. But she said the funds don’t go to abortions.
“Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid patients come to us for birth control, pap tests, cervical cancer screenings, breast exams and STD testing,” Higgins said. “That’s what Medicaid pays for and that’s what the governor’s trying to cut off today.”
Burroughs said Kansans can’t rely on Brownback and Republican allies to do what is right for Kansas. He described the governor’s legacy as one of failure.
“Kansans continue to suffer while they put their personal political agenda first,” Burroughs said.
Some lawmakers noted Brownback’s decision not to mention the state’s budget shortfall.
“That surprised me,” said Rep. Fred Patton, R-Topeka. “I know the efficiency report came out today, but I thought he’d at least highlight some aspects of it.”
Earlier on Tuesday, consultants released an efficiency report to lawmakers that says its recommendations would save the state $2 billion in five years.
Obama has refused to lead in the wake of the November terror attacks in Paris, Brownback indicated. The governor’s budget proposal — to be outlined this morning — will include funding to support security enhancements at National Guard facilities in the state.
“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,” Brownback said.
In fact, an executive order issued by Brownback in November only blocked assistance to refugees from Syria. Only last week, Jan. 8, did Brownback issue a new executive order broadening the prohibition to include refugees from countries that pose a security risk.
Washburn University political scientist Bob Beatty said he felt as if he was in Iowa, a state saturated with Republican presidential candidates who are quick to attack the president.
“There were 15 negative Obama or Obama-related references in the Kansas State of the State address,” Beatty said.
Brownback also called for strengthening a property tax lid enacted by the Legislature. The lid will bar cities and counties from using property tax revenue generated above the rate of inflation except with an election, though some exceptions are made for spending on construction and infrastructure.
House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said he agreed with the governor’s call to move up the effective date of the lid.