Topeka — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback started 2012 with the political winds at his back. As the year went on, the breeze only got stronger.
At the start of 2013, it may be a full-on gale.
Pushed by the conservative governor, Kansas lawmakers approved massive income tax cuts in 2012 that supporters insist would stimulate the economy. Then in August, conservative Republicans ousted House and Senate moderates in the GOP primaries, paving the way to easy November wins and setting Brownback up with a can’t-lose majority for the upcoming legislative session in January.
The tax cuts and the conservative takeover of the Statehouse were named the No. 1 and No. 2 news stories of 2012 in a survey of Associated Press member newspaper editors and broadcast news directors.
Not all the tax news was positive for Brownback, and many wondered by the end of the year how the governor could balance a budget with those steep cuts. Legislative researchers projected that Brownback’s tax cuts would force the state into a budget shortfall of $328 million for July 2014.
And in December, Brownback said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of canceling a promised reduction in the state sales tax as an option for balancing the budget next year, even though legislators in both parties resisted the idea.
The state’s third top story, as ranked by editors and news directors, was Brownback’s plan to turn the state’s entire, $2.9 billion-a-year Medicaid program over to private insurance companies. The plan received plenty of criticism from lawmakers and advocates for the needy, but the administration forged ahead, awarding contracts to out-of-state firms. His administration still needed the approval of the federal government, which was weighing a decision at year’s end.
Other stories getting attention in the survey:
4) A heat wave engulfed the state, breaking records statewide but especially in Hill City, a small northwest Kansas community where the highest temperatures in the nation were recorded. The scorching temperatures came amid a widespread drought that devastated fall crops and forced ranchers to sell off livestock as pastures dried up across the state.
5) The Kansas State Wildcats slowly climbed their way into the No. 1 ranking in college football and were working on a perfect season when a loss to Baylor shattered their hopes for a national championship bid.
6) Kris Kobach, the Republican secretary of state, pushed to move up a requirement for people to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote for the first time in Kansas, so that it would be in effect for this year’s election rather than in 2013 as scheduled. He failed to get the measure through the Legislature and also faced criticism over another law he pushed to require voters to show photo ID at the polls. Kobach also drew national attention as an informal adviser to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney on immigration issues and kept his high profile by intervening in a close Kansas House race involving his most vocal Democratic opponent.
7) Boeing Co., for decades the brand that helped support Wichita’s claim as the aviation capital of the world, announced it will shut down facilities in the city by the end of 2013 and send work to plants in three other states as it deals with cuts in defense spending. The closings will cost 2,160 workers their jobs and end the firm’s presence in an area where it has been a major employer for generations.
8) The Kansas University men’s basketball team played for a national championship after a surprise Final Four victory over Ohio State but lost the title game to Kentucky.
9) The state’s rollout of a new computer system for handling driver’s licenses was anything but smooth. Though the Department of Revenue said it was ultimately more efficient than the old system, long lines were reported across the state and the agency faced questions about training for employees in local vehicles offices.
10) A bitter feud among Republicans in the state Senate prevented the passage of any legislation to redraw the state’s political boundaries to ensure equal representation. Three federal judges drew the new lines, making some dramatic changes.