Topeka Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is floating a proposal to cap the annual growth in state spending at 2 percent — an idea with broad appeal among fellow conservatives — but said Tuesday that he'll leave the details of how best to accomplish it to the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Brownback said during a brief interview with The Associated Press that he's not proposing to amend the Kansas Constitution to limit spending growth, a past goal of Americans for Prosperity and other anti-tax, small-government groups. His aides have suggested the administration will pursue a law, but Brownback would say only that he'll work with lawmakers.
Democrats and less conservative Republicans are wary of the proposal, saying it could prevent the state from adequately funding its public schools or keeping up with the rising costs of social services. But in his annual State of the State address earlier this month, Brownback said a cap on spending would allow the state to keep cutting income taxes, stimulating economic growth.
"We'll work with the Legislature on how they see fit to do it," Brownback told the AP. "I really wanted to put the marker out there."
Brownback has proposed overhauling the state's individual income tax code, cutting rates but eliminating tax credits and deductions. In his State of the State speech, he said the state would then devote additional revenues to income tax cuts, moving Kansas closer to other states with no income tax.
Prominent conservative Republicans in the House, where caps on state spending have been proposed most often in the past, said they're not yet aware of anyone working on a bill. House Speaker Mike O'Neal said a cap on spending could become part of the legislation containing Brownback's tax plan.
Derrick Sontag, state director for Americans for Prosperity, said the group would settle for a law limiting spending. It prefers a constitutional amendment, but such a measure must be adopted by two-thirds majorities in both chambers before it could get on the statewide ballot for possible approval by a simple majority of voters.
"You really can't have effective tax reform unless you have limited, controlled government spending," said Sontag, whose wife is Brownback's communications director.
Brownback's proposed budget for the fiscal year calls for spending a little less than $6.1 billion in general state tax revenues during the fiscal year that begins July 1, slightly less than under the current budget. But the growth in spending financed by those revenues has averaged 4.6 percent over the past 20 years, even with two recessions since 2001.
Senate President Steve Morris, a moderate Hugoton Republican, noted that the state has committed to increasing its contribution to the pension system for teachers and government workers to close a long-term funding gap. That promise will make a 2 percent cap on spending growth difficult, he said.
Other legislators said even with a plan from Brownback to overhaul the Medicaid program providing health coverage for the needy, its costs are likely to rise significantly more than 2 percent each year.
"There are some years that we have obligations that want to be able to meet," said Rep. Jerry Henry, a Cummings Democrat who serves on the House Appropriations Committee. "We have to meet some needs of the people before we think about what the cap is."