Editorial: A lame duck budget proposal

It should come as no surprise that lame duck Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is pitching a lame-duck budget for the state in 2018.

Brownback thought he would be gone by now. As recently as last month, odds were even that Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer would give Tuesday night’s State of the State speech.

But with Brownback’s confirmation as the Trump administration’s ambassador for International Religious Freedom hung up in the Senate, it was the two-term Republican governor who offered up his budget plans during his eighth and final State of the State address.

Anyone hoping for big ideas from the governor was disappointed. Brownback suggested the state can meet a state Supreme Court order to adequately fund the state’s public schools by, essentially, doing nothing.

In outlining the plan in more detail Wednesday, Budget Director Shawn Sullivan said a growing national economy combined with revenues from an income tax increase lawmakers passed last year — despite a Brownback veto — will allow the state to gradually increase school spending over the next five years to $600 million per year. The plan would increase education spending by $200 million next year, and $100 million more in each of the next four years.

There was little in the way of innovative thinking in the rest of the budget. Brownback’s plan rejects most requests for additional spending, including the restoration of the 4 percent cuts to Regents universities that Brownback ordered in 2016.

Brownback’s plan runs through mid-2019, at which point the new governor will be responsible for the budget.

Lawmakers were rightfully skeptical. “It’s not plausible,” said Rep. Troy Waymaster, R-Bunker Hill. “I have my doubts. Severe doubts.”

Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, said she would like to see $600 million more go into education but said Brownback has ceded his ability to lead on the issue.

“This governor, who fought us tooth and nail last year, vetoed us and forced the whole showdown, and then attacked those of us willing to override the veto throughout the summer and fall, now is so willing on his way out the door to spend the money,” she said. “… It baffles me why he didn’t just get to work with us last year and help lead us through the crises that we’re dealing with at the state level.”

The Legislature’s dismantling of Brownback’s tax policies last session, culminating with the historic vote to override his veto of the tax bill, ended Brownback’s run as the state’s top leader. At this point, he’s simply going through the motions as governor and his budget proposal reflects that.