Good Evening. My name is Paul Davis and I am the Democratic Leader in the Kansas House of Representatives. I thank you for tuning in as I share with you a road map that sets different priorities for the future of our state than what Governor Brownback outlined this evening.
We have been through some tough times recently and you deserve elected officials who are working everyday to create a Kansas where jobs are plentiful, our children can attend safe, top quality schools and our economy and tax code works for every Kansan, not just the rich.
Kansas Democrats believe that getting the economy working for working families should be the FIRST priority of this legislative session.
Other than the blessings of family, there is nothing more fulfilling in life than having a good job. Our parents wanted us to find better jobs than they had and we want the same thing for our children. This is the essence of the American dream. Unfortunately, during the last few years, too many Kansans have lost faith in the American dream as we've watched our incomes decline while many big corporations rake in record profits.
Although we are starting to recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, more than 50,000 Kansans are still without work.
We heard a lot tonight about government reforms that might eventually stimulate private sector growth. However, Governor Brownback offered few concrete proposals designed specifically to get Kansans off unemployment rolls and onto a payroll.
If we are really going to help Kansas workers and small businesses get out of this recession, we must go further than abstract structural reforms. This is why Democrats have unveiled a jobs package called "Kansas Jobs First."
This includes 14 proposals that will incentivize investment in Kansas small businesses, keep Kansas jobs from being exported, help unemployed workers find work, strengthen job training programs, and stop discriminatory hiring practices. These proposals stem from concepts that have been supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past. They should be enacted quickly by this Legislature and signed into law by Governor Brownback.
We brought this package forward with the belief that it is unnecessary to pit state government against the private sector in our quest to create jobs. We can — and must _ be partners.
However, this partnership must be based on the understanding that it takes more than corporate tax breaks to reach our common goal. There is no more appropriate illustration of this than the devastating announcement last week that the Boeing Company will close its Wichita facility and abandon a community that — literally — built the company from the ground up over the last 85 years.
For decades, Boeing benefited from property tax incentives, sales tax exemptions, infrastructure investments and other tax breaks at every level of government. These generous incentives were provided in our effort to partner with Boeing and strengthen the Kansas economy.
But after accepting all of those taxpayer-funded incentives, Boeing sent over 2,000 highly skilled Kansas workers home with a pink slip last week. Putting those folks - and the 50,000 others who have found themselves in a similar situation since this recession began — back to work must be Job #1 for the Legislature.
That is what our jobs package is all about. Democrats want to incentivize growth — especially for small businesses, which are the backbone of the private sector. But we want to move forward in a way that balances the needs of the worker with that of the employer.
And passing our "Kansas Jobs First" package is where we should begin.
Kansas Democrats have long been champions of public education and we are committed to providing our children with safe, top quality schools. We believe that the school funding cuts in recent years have gone way too far. Before new corporate tax breaks are signed into law, excess state revenue should be used to restore funding to our schools first.
When it comes to education, one core principal has always guided Kansas Democrats: the seeds of prosperity are planted at the schoolhouse door.
Our commitment to education is more than just a political position. It is the underpinning of what it means to be a Kansan.
As immigrants and settlers, our ancestors knew that education was the next generation's ticket to a better life, which is why they embedded this value into our state constitution. And generation after generation, that decision has paid off.
Now it's up to us to continue this tradition.
Nobody moves to Kansas for pristine beaches or mountainous resorts. People move to Kansas — and people stay in Kansas — because this is a great place to raise a family.
But no family wants to fork over hundreds of dollars in new school fees or swallow skyrocketing property taxes because the state has neglected to fund their child's school.
No family wants their Kindergartner's most formative moments of learning to be spent in a classroom fighting for a teacher's attention with 30 other 5-year-olds.
If Governor Brownback can't see this happening across our state, I encourage him to take a second look. Our children deserve the best schools we can provide, and we are on the road to failing them.
In Andover, schools have been forced to charge families $150 to ride the bus, and a $50 per student fee in order to participate in things like music and football.
In Peabody-Burns, one of our state's smallest school districts, they were forced to raise property taxes by nearly 6 mills, which amounts to almost $70 on a house valued at $100,000.
And right here in Topeka, 100 teaching positions have been eliminated. One teacher in the district recently shared how her class size has grown to 27 students, when there were only 17 a few short years ago.
Governor Brownback's cuts are having a visible impact on our schools, and it's time for him to realize his cuts have simply gone too far.
We also must start taking notice of the economic implications of these actions.
Economists have long agreed that skilled workers are essential to growth. Today's fastest growing companies require a labor force with education and job training. We can't give the private sector that kind of capital by rubber-stamping a massive corporate tax break. We have to provide it by investing in education and other core services that make our communities strong, safe and prosperous.
There's no question that our economic stability is hindered by every dollar we cut from public schools. But the problem has not been the manner in which we fund them, as asserted by Governor Brownback. The problem is the lack of funding.
Kansans don't want another long, drawn out political fight over school finance. We just want Governor Brownback and the Legislature to hold up their end of the bargain and provide a safe, quality education for our children. If the Governor wants to address school finance in 2012, restoring cuts and properly funding the current formula should be the starting point of that discussion.
This is why Kansas Democrats have unveiled a plan to restore state funding to public schools.
While Governor Brownback and many Republicans want to use state revenue surpluses for large income tax cuts, Democrats want to take a different path and devote most of this surplus to the restoration of public education funding.
You know, over the years people who received a first rate Kansas education have gone on to change the world. Somewhere in Kansas tonight is the next Amelia Earhart or Dwight Eisenhower. Perhaps he or she is sitting in your living room right now, distracting you while you watch this evening's State of the State coverage.
Are we going to give your child the boost needed to make a mark on history, or not? At the end of the day, that is what is at stake in this debate.
Kansas Democrats want to lower the state tax burden in a way that is fair and fiscally responsible. We want to provide relief to the people who need it the most without sacrificing schools and other investments that make our communities strong.
If we're going to have a discussion about tax cuts, Democrats stand strongly on the principle that lowering local property taxes should be the FIRST priority. Middle class working families and Kansans who live on fixed incomes have watched their property taxes skyrocket 65 percent over the last decade, all while their incomes have remained stagnant or - in many cases - declined. These are the folks who are really hurting in this recession, and they will benefit much more from a property tax break than an income tax break.
Back in 2004, the Legislature quit funding a property tax reduction program that has been around since 1938. Kansas Democrats have proposed a plan that will dedicate 25% of the state surplus to this property tax relief fund.
In the long run, this proposal is much more feasible than Governor Brownback's plan to phase out the income tax.
The income tax accounts for almost one-half of our state revenue. All it takes is a little Kansas common sense to understand what happens when you eliminate half of your income. Either half of your expenses have to be eliminated, or you have to find another way to pay for them.
In other words, if we eliminate the income tax, no matter what other tweaks we make to the tax code, you and your family will soon be paying dramatically higher sales tax and property tax. Either that, or many of the public services you rely upon today will disappear. This means that those school cuts - which have had a painful impact on your child's education - will either go deeper or become the status quo.
When it's all said and done, Governor Brownback's proposal to eliminate the state income tax won't be much of a tax cut at all. It will simply shift the tax burden from corporations and our wealthiest citizens to those with the least means to pay.
Kansas Democrats cannot support a tax cut that makes the gap between the rich and the middle class even wider. We are particularly unwilling to support such a proposal while schools are limping along and other, more regressive taxes are driving Kansans into poverty.
Once again, Democrats have a offered a different set of priorities for tax reform. Our plan gives relief to those who need it the most, while the Brownback plan largely benefits corporations and the wealthiest of Kansans.
As the minority party, it would be easy for Kansas Democrats to follow the lead of Washington politicians, and just be the "Party of No." But that's not why we were sent here.
Democrats have offered concrete ideas tonight that will put "Kansas FIRST". This means that job creation and proposals to help working families who play by the rules must be the FIRST priority. This means that before new corporate tax breaks are signed into law, excess state revenue should FIRST be used to restore funding to our schools. This means that the FIRST priority for tax reform should be easing the burden on the middle class and ensuring that everyone pays their fair share.
Tonight is just the beginning of our discussion. We have a long road ahead of us and we hope you will continue to follow our progress throughout the legislative session at www.kansasfirst.net. We'll provide updates and information about our proposals and continue our dialogue with you. If we put Kansas First, I know we will improve the lives of every Kansan and we will show that the American dream is alive and well right here in the Heartland.
Thank you, and may God bless the great state of Kansas.