Topeka — Democrats are complaining that Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, is trying to take control of various aspects of state government that have been relatively independent of political pressure.
They point to administrative moves, statements of intention and defiance of the Legislature.
“There’s definitely an effort by the governor to centralize authority within his office,” said House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence.
Brownback and his staff say his actions have been aimed at reducing state spending and making government run more efficiently.
Earlier this session, Brownback issued an executive order consolidating all hiring and human resource functions in the Kansas Department of Administration, which is headed by a Cabinet secretary appointed by Brownback.
Democrats say the new system is a way to ensure Brownback has control over who gets state jobs.
In announcing that decision, Brownback stated, “The state of Kansas needs to establish and increase efficiency, uniformity and fairness in employment policies, procedures and practices within the Executive Branch of state government. Streamlining the administration’s human resources to the Department of Administration will ensure employees are treated equally.”
Other examples, cited by Brownback’s critics, include:
- Brownback’s Kansas Secretary of Labor Karin Brownlee’s effort to make all employees in the agency unclassified. Brownlee said she wants to improve the agency through better management and a merit-based employee system. A state employee group said the proposal was an attack on worker protections. Democrats have also said that Brownlee has issued an edict requiring agency employees working at the call center to request permission before they can go to the bathroom. Matthew Manda, a Labor Department spokesman, said that allegation is not correct. Employees are supposed to tell their supervisor when they are taking a break, he said. This allows the department to do a better job in fielding calls, he said.
- Brownback’s insertion into the Kansas Bioscience Authority debate. Some legislators have raised questions about KBA finances, and the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office has said it has opened an investigation in the KBA, although it has declined to say what it is looking into. Brownback has been vocal in demanding an independent audit of the agency and review of records. Democrats say Brownback is trying to take control of the KBA, an allegation that Brownback denies.
- Brownback’s order to fold the Kansas Health Policy Authority into the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which will remove the board that oversees KHPA. Brownback said the move will save administrative expenses and “unifies the expertise in KHPA with the accountability of KDHE as we implement major reforms to our Medicaid delivery model.”
- Brownback’s layoffs disclosed Tuesday at the Kansas Arts Commission despite a vote by the Senate to keep the commission going and agreements by legislators to fund it. Brownback has said elimination of the agency is a cost-cutting move.