Archive for Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Brownback pushes agenda on taxes, schools, health care and state retirement for 2012

This is a view from the front balcony of the Senate chambers at the Topeka Capitol building. Several images were merged in Photoshop to created the panorama.

This is a view from the front balcony of the Senate chambers at the Topeka Capitol building. Several images were merged in Photoshop to created the panorama.

December 28, 2011


— One year ago, when then-Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, was asked if he had apprehensions about turning over the office to Republican Sam Brownback, Parkinson said no.

Despite having witnessed the election of the most conservative governor in modern Kansas history and a tidal wave of conservatives in the House, Parkinson said he thought the Kansas public would somehow moderate their government.

“I think that in the area of social policy, the most prominent topic, of course, is abortion … in the area of social policy, I think it will be fairly easy for him (Brownback) to make changes and get legislation through that he would like and satisfy some of those constituencies,” Parkinson said.

But, he added, “When it comes to the area of budget and revenue, budget and taxes, it will be a lot harder. Those are issues that create all sorts of divides that are not necessarily Republican and Democrat. They can be more urban and rural. They can have a lot to do with your particular school district.

“So, if his constituency will be satisfied with a social agenda, I think he can make them happy. If his constituency is requiring an overhaul of the budget, a complete revamping of the tax system, a rewriting of the school finance formula, he’s going to have a lot of headaches. That’s a lot harder to do.”

Parkinson correctly predicted the outcome of the 2011 legislative session. Brownback, indeed, signed into law several bills restricting abortion, all of which were approved in the Republican-dominated Legislature and are in various stages of legal challenges. He signed into law voter-photo ID that has been pushed by Republicans across the nation. In a philosophical battle, that has continued to confound many, Brownback also made Kansas the first and only state to stop funding the arts.

For the 2012 legislative session, Brownback is wading into what Parkinson called the “lot harder to do” issues.

‘Significant’ session predicted

Brownback has said the session, which starts Jan. 9, will be one of “the most significant” in decades.

He plans to try to revamp the tax code, which will include lowering the state personal income tax.

He has released an overhaul of the school finance system that removes state limits on local school districts to raise property taxes for schools as high as they want.

He plans to turn over management of the entire Medicaid system to private managed care companies.

And he has pushed for and supports a study commission’s recommendation to replace the traditional defined benefit public employee pension with a 401(k)-style savings plan.

He also plans to stir the complex world of water law.

And there’s more.

Brownback will push his agenda during the politically-charged process of redrawing political boundaries during redistricting.

Once the session ends, all legislative positions will be before the voters, which, at least according to one recent survey, have expressed mixed feelings about what they want from the state.

The Kansas Speaks statewide survey done by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University showed 65 percent of Kansans want to increase school funding, and 59 percent want to increase funding for social services. But 52 percent want to cut overall state spending.

Lowering tax rates

Brownback argues that Kansas is falling behind the region and nation in economic growth. He says lower taxes will lure more business to the state, and he has used the growth of Texas, which doesn’t have a state income tax, as an example to follow.

Brownback’s administration has refused to reveal information on who it is talking to as it forms a plan to reduce personal income taxes.

The administration has hired Arthur Laffer, one of the architects of President Ronald Reagan’s supply-side economics, for $75,000 to provide consulting on the initiative. A recent Washington Post story on what Brownback was doing in Kansas, quoted Laffer as saying, “It’s a revolution in a cornfield. Brownback and his whole group there, it’s an amazing thing they’re doing. Truly revolutionary.”

But Brownback’s plan to overhaul the state tax system has appeared to have gotten some push back. Lowering the personal income tax would remove dollars to a state budget that was whacked repeatedly during the Great Recession. As the state’s economy improves, some have argued the top priority should be restoring budget cuts, not cutting taxes.

Brownback’s tax plan was expected to be released in November, but has been put off until his State of the State speech on Jan. 11.

And Republican leaders in the Senate have taken a different approach to the issue.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, has formed a bipartisan tax study group, which includes legislators and private citizens who will consider a number of proposals, including Brownback’s.

“It will be very helpful to receive comment and consideration from a group of private citizens who come from different and diverse parts of the state,” Morris said.

“These people know what works and what does not work in their individual businesses and communities, and they have first-hand knowledge of what helps or hinders economic growth in their areas,” he said.

School finance fight expected

Consuming about half of the state budget, school funding is one of the most hotly debated issues before Kansas policymakers.

Citing frequent litigation over school finance, Brownback has said he wants to overhaul the formula used to divide up nearly $3 billion and put the Legislature — not the judiciary — in charge of school funding.

His plan would eliminate state limits on local school districts raising property taxes for education. It would provide a small increase to some of the smallest school districts in Kansas, but nearly all mid-sized and large districts would see no increase.

Advocates of school funding say Brownback’s so-called “hold harmless” provision would lock in funding levels that have been cut to the bone. The current level of base state aid per pupil is at its lowest point in a decade.

“To the extent that the Brownback plan permanently enshrines the cuts to education funding of the last few years, it is a plan that is inadequate for a state that hopes to capitalize on a recovering economy and develop a workforce ready for the challenges of the 21st century,” the Kansas-NEA said.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said public school education has a special place in the hearts of Kansans. “It’s almost like a legacy. It’s what we think we should be all about,” she said.

Health care privatization

The Brownback administration is seeking contract bids to managed care companies.

Like many states, Kansas is trying to reduce the growing costs in the program that is funded through federal and state dollars and provides health care coverage to 350,000 Kansas residents.

But unlike most states that have gone the managed care route, Kansas wants to include in its contracts care for those with developmental disabilities.

Advocates for Kansans with developmental disabilities say the required long-term care needs don’t fit well with managed care.

KPERS overhaul pushed

Brownback also is pushing for a change in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.

A plan pushed by Brownback and other Republicans would eliminate the pension plan for future hires and some current employees and replace it with a 401(k)-style savings plan.

Democrats say the proposal does nothing to fix long-term funding issues within KPERS and will leave future retirees with little.


Richard Heckler 6 years ago

Brownback cannot use Texas as a model.

This is Kansas.

William Weissbeck 6 years ago

Worse yet, I'm not sure Texas is a model for anything. The geography, demographics and resources are far different than Kansas. We would be better to look at our most immediate neighbors to see what works and what doesn't. We'd be better served to figure out how to turn the ex-Missouri burb otherwise known as Johnson and Wyandotte Cos. that stretches now to Lawrence as the metro hub to drive a modern Kansas. I realize the dust bowlers out west find that appalling, but we should make sure that Missouri's loss is clearly Kansas' gain.

William Weissbeck 6 years ago

I do know the state quite well. I have probably been to at least 70 of its 105 counties. I'm a little weak on the SE. My politics go back to Bob Docking. My reference to Texas has to do with the Houston, San Antonio and Austin areas. We don't have a coast line or the refinery/chemical companies. Texas to a significant extent lives of its natural resources, military bases, cheap labor and metro job magnets (the rich get richer, the big get bigger). Yes, if you drew a line west of Dallas southwest say toward Del Rio, then that western half of the state would be much like Kansas. And yes, I know the dust bowlers would be quite old, but I was referring to the attitudes of people to the west of I-35. It was in living memory that Kansas had both Democratic governors and at least one House in the legislature, and Wichita had a Democratic congressman. We are long removed from those days. It's not the Democratic Party that changed.

overthemoon 6 years ago

If your principles coincide with a corporate fascist theocracy, Brownback's certainly your man.

WilburNether 6 years ago

How typical of liberals. They won't argue the policy, but rather resort to name-calling and personal insults.

They won't argue the policy because they can't.

matthew2600 6 years ago

Can argue the policy, will argue the policy, progress and tolerance will win.

WilburNether 6 years ago

How typical of liberals. They won't argue the policy, but rather resort to name-calling and personal insults.

They won't argue the policy because they can't.

rbwaa 6 years ago

What makes you say brownback was a farmer - he may own a farm but he was never a farmer...

ignatius_j_reilly 6 years ago

It's ironic people say Brownback has a farmer's mentality. He collects farm subsidies, sure, but he ain't no farmer. Him being in bed with big businesses, to cut them giant tax writeoffs (Boeing), should clarify that. Who would Brownback rather have in the state: one agricultural behemoth with economies of scale based in Florida or California, or a thousand honest Kansas farmers? We all know what his choice would be.

jafs 6 years ago

Brownback won by an approximately 2/3 margin.

However, the turnout was only about 50%.

So about 1/3 of eligible voters in KS voted for him.

And, have you managed to forget that the legislature has been solidly Republican for many years?

jafs 6 years ago

Ah, another person who can't discuss things without resorting to name calling - oh well.

I'm saying that he was elected by about 1/3 of the eligible voters in KS, and you can't claim those who don't vote.

I"ll bet you don't apply that logic to Obama's win of the presidency, do you?

jafs 6 years ago

Yes it is.

And, a similar shame in national elections, as well.

I'd say the biggest message I get from elections is that far too many people aren't participating in them.

kochmoney 6 years ago

He can claim to be the son of a farmer, but farming was never his vocation. His professional career consists of a year as a broadcaster, a bit of time as a lawyer, and a lot of time as a professional politician.

William Weissbeck 6 years ago

Maybe he means to walk across the Arkansas River at Dodge City or Great Bend.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

Yea, after Brownback gets done realizing his agenda, we can party like it's 1928. Well, without the party.

Don Whiteley 6 years ago

I don't always like Brownback's choices, but I have to admire him a great deal for bringing the Kansas budget under control, something few other governors in the US have been able to do. For years, our governments have outspent their income by frightening margins and the Democrats want to keep right on doing this. In California, the entire state borders on the verge of bankruptcy. I admire the Democratic party for their idealism and compassion, but they want to keep transferring the costs of our generation to our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. That I don't like, and until they come around to the reality of our financial situation, I will continue to support Brownback, even though I think the cuts he has made would have better been made elsewhere.

JackMcKee 6 years ago

bringing the budget under control? you mean like paying art Laffer $75k for basically nothing, hiring faith counselors at SRS while shuttering the Lawrence office, etc

The man is a fool

William Weissbeck 6 years ago

Please tell me you realize that a large measure of California's problems are the result of property taxes having been frozen back in the 80's? And please don't mix Kansas' issues with national Democrats. Whatever Kansas has spent and taxed over the last 60 years has been predominantly under GOP legislatures. And if it's been under Democratic governors that's more the fault of the GOP for their inability to bury the hatchet between their conservative and moderate wings.

meggers 6 years ago

Kansas is legally required to balance it's budget, so every other governor has had to bring the Kansas budget under control, as well.

What is at issue is exactly what you alluded to in your last sentence. Making draconian cuts on the backs of the children, poor, and most vulnerable Kansas citizens, all while diverting public money into for-profit corporations whose only interest is profit is a pretty good indicator of where Brownback's priorities lie.

jafs 6 years ago

School finance is in the hands of the legislature - they're the ones who determine the correct amount of financing for schools - the only reason the judiciary got involved is that they failed to fund them at the amounts they themselves determined.

Mike Ford 6 years ago

sidestepping state authority and letting school districts and taxpayers clobber each other as bryllocreme stands on the sidelines. Much like Reagan did after he signed Indian Gaming Act into law in 1988 and let states take more sovereignty from tribes....only in this country do some people lift idiocy as genuis.....

Flap Doodle 6 years ago

...only in this country do some people misspell "genius" and still pose as paragons of brillance.... (from a source)

lucky_guy 6 years ago

I thought that Swartzeneger was a Republican, geez. But you bring up a great point. California's issues are not Kansas's yet and that is how we should keep it. We should keep our tax structure meaning the income tax and not allow our tax stream to be compromised like California's has been. So if we would get in trouble we couldn't get out, like California.

JackMcKee 6 years ago

gov heblowsalot has done some great things for Kansans named Koch

William Weissbeck 6 years ago

Medicaid and managed care is not a new idea. Many states have tried and failed. The for-profit model doesn't work very well on a group that is poor and whose health care needs often are borderline disabilities. The poor in need of Medicaid are simply not the same as the average middle class, but with just less money and no insurance. Somebody should simply ask the governor where the profit and cost savings will come from. I suspect his answer will be akin to an answer by his model, Rick Perry in his many debates.

lucky_guy 6 years ago

I still laugh everytime I think that the Gov of no Obamacare wants to turn Ks Medicade over to insurance companies. Isn't that more like Obamacare than the free market model?

verity 6 years ago

". . . 65 percent of Kansans want to increase school funding, and 59 percent want to increase funding for social services. But 52 percent want to cut overall state spending."

Isn't there some kind of disconnect here? Wonder what questions were asked and how they were asked, something rarely reported when survey/poll statistics are used and which, of course, makes a big difference.

In my opinion, trying to make sense of what Gov Brownback does/plans on doing is not productive because (1) I don't believe that he is a rational person, and (2) I think his agenda for Kansas has nothing to do with making the state a better place for most of the residents. It's all for God or Koch and I'm not sure he knows the difference.

"He says lower taxes will lure more business to the state, and he has used the growth of Texas, which doesn’t have a state income tax, as an example to follow."

From Businessweek: "Rubbermaid plans to invest $26 million in its Winfield plant in south-central Kansas, moving 200 jobs from Texas."

jafs 6 years ago

There is a big disconnect.

And it's not just in KS - most people want the government to cut spending, but not the spending that benefits them, or people they care about.

verity 6 years ago

Furthermore, Mark Parkinson was not a Democrat and I have suspected that the reason he didn't run for governor was to make way for Brownback. I think he was getting his marching orders from the Republicans.

Keith 6 years ago

quoted Laffer as saying, “It’s a revolution in a cornfield. Brownback and his whole group there, it’s an amazing thing they’re doing. Truly revolutionary.”

How conservative!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.