Despite the state's looming budget crisis, Gov. Sam Brownback gave an upbeat speech to the Kansas Bankers Association, saying the state is poised for economic growth, and vowing to continue on his course to eliminate state income taxes.
Speaking for about 20 minutes in a second-floor hallway at the Capitol, Brownback briefly noted that January revenues came in far below expectations, but focused only on the lag in sales tax collections, which he said was the result of a lackluster holiday shopping season that was felt nationwide.
But the $47.2 million revenue shortfall in January only added to an already dire budget situation. In November, state budget officials projected revenues would be $279 million short of what's needed to fund this year's budget. In response, Brownback ordered about $60 million in direct spending cuts in December and is now asking lawmakers to approve additional measures to close the remaining gap.
According to many analysts, the biggest contributor to the revenue shortfalls has been the sweeping income tax cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013. Supporters of those measures said they would spur rapid economic growth. And in his remarks to the bankers association, Brownback said he still believes in that theory.
"Because the pro-growth position in the United States is to be a right-to-work state with no income taxes," Brownback said.
He told the bankers that he "cannot find a single study" to support what has often been called a "three-legged stool" of taxation in Kansas, a balance between sales, property and income taxes. "But I can find a lot of studies that point to, if you get that income tax rate down to zero, these are, long term, the states that grow the fastest."
The most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, however, does not show a consistent pattern of above-average growth — as measured by their gross state products — in the seven states that have no income tax.
In 2013, when the U.S. economy grew at a sluggish rate of 1.8 percent, two of the seven no-income-tax states had even slower growth: Nevada at 1 percent and Alaska at -2.5 percent. Two other states that do not tax wages, but do tax interest and dividend income, also had below average growth: New Hampshire at 0.9 percent and Tennessee at 0.8 percent.
Most of the other no-income-tax states also had sluggish growth, although they were slightly above the national average: Florida at 2.2 percent and Washington at 2.7 percent. South Dakota and Texas saw growth rates in the 3-4 percent range.
Only Wyoming — whose entire population is roughly equal to that of Johnson County — stood out with a 7.6 percent growth rate, no doubt fueled by the new boom in domestic oil and gas production.
According to the website bankrate.com, which has information about the no-income-tax states, most of the states on the list have significantly higher state sales taxes than Kansas, or they have other significant sources of revenue such as the gaming industry in Nevada, or the petroleum industry, which funds nearly all of Alaska's state operations.
TOPEKA — House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, on Friday gave a farewell speech to the chamber he has been working in for the past 12 years.
"Thank you for the friendships that I will cherish forever, for the memories that will never leave me, and the opportunity to simply serve," Davis said.
Davis is giving up his seat to run for governor against Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
He told House members that next year he will be working in the governor's office or in his law office in Lawrence.
Davis said it has been an honor to serve the 46th House District. For the past six years, he has also been minority leader.
Davis thanked his wife, Stephanie, daughter, Caroline, and parents, who were all present, and each member of the Douglas County delegation, saying he learned from all of them.
He also thanked his staff and House Republican leaders.
In new ad, group backing Brownback praises governor for school bill but doesn’t mention repeal of teacher tenure
A group backing Gov. Sam Brownback churned out a commercial praising Brownback for the new school finance bill, but the ad doesn't mention controversial parts of the bill, including a repeal of job protections for teachers.
The spot sponsored by Road Map Solutions Inc., led by Brownback's longtime political adviser David Kensinger, was running this weekend and cites the bill approved April 6 in the Legislature.
The measure, approved with only Republican votes, was passed after a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that said the Legislature must increase funding to poor schools. But the bill also includes measures opposed by Democrats and some Republicans that would repeal teacher tenure and provide corporate tax breaks for private school scholarships for low-income children.
Brownback is expected to sign the bill into law.
"We got it done," says the announcer on the new ad. The ad says the bill will provide $73 million more for schools and $78 million in property tax relief.
But the ad doesn't mention those education policy changes that have generated criticism.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, the likely Democratic challenger to Brownback, said the repeal of teacher tenure represented "a clear attack" on teachers.
A new poll shows the race for Kansas governor remains tight.
The poll showed Democrat Paul Davis of Lawrence leading Republican Gov. Sam Brownback 45 percent to 41 percent, with 14 percent unsure. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. It was conducted April 1-3, before the contentious last weekend of the legislative session.
The poll, commissioned by the left-leaning MoveOn.org's political action committee, also shows that 52 percent of Kansans want the state to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage while 35 percent oppose it and 13 percent are unsure.
Under the Affordable Care Act, states can increase income eligibility to allow more people to receive health care coverage under Medicaid.
Medicaid provides coverage for the needy and disabled. Under the ACA, federal funds would pay 100 percent of the cost of expansion for three years and no less than 90 percent after that.
Supporters of expansion of Medicaid say it would help thousands of Kansans who earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid or to receive premium tax credit assistance under the ACA to purchase private insurance.
There are 182,000 Kansans within that gap, according to a study by the Kansas Health Institute. Of that number, 78,400 have no insurance, the study said.
Brownback and the Republican-led Kansas Legislature have refused to expand coverage. Brownback has said he fears the federal government won't keep its funding promise.
A bill approved by the Legislature and awaiting consideration by Brownback would ban indefinitely expansion of Medicaid.
According to the new poll, when told that Davis wants to expand Medicaid, 39 percent of those polled said that made them more likely to vote for him, while 34 percent said less likely.
When told that Brownback opposes expansion of Medicaid, 33 percent said that made them more likely to vote for him while 41 percent said that it made them less likely.
The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling surveyed 886 likely voters in Kansas. Fifty-two percent of those polled identified themselves as Republican, 30 percent Democrat, and 18 percent independent.
Topeka — Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, has pre-filed legislation that would require the governor to make public the names of people who apply for an appointment to the Kansas Court of Appeals.
Last year, Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, and his conservative allies pushed through a change in the way Court of Appeals judges were selected.
Now those judges are selected by the governor subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Prior to the change, the governor selected an appeals court judge from a list of nominees provided by a nominating commission.
Brownback selected his chief counsel, Caleb Stegall, as the first nominee under the new law.
The new selection process became more controversial when Brownback refused to divulge the names of those applying for the vacancy on the state's second highest court. Under the former system, the nominating commission released the names of those applying, its final recommendation and had even opened up to the public its interview process.
Brownback declined to make the applicants' names public, saying it would hurt the chances of getting qualified individuals to apply.
Under Senate Bill 252, the governor would be required to make each applicant's name and city of residence available to the public once the application process is over. The 2014 legislative session starts Monday.
Brownback’s former tax consultant criticizes federal minimum wage as ‘black teenage unemployment act’
Art Laffer, the $75,000 consultant who helped shape Gov. Sam Brownback's tax changes, called the federal minimum wage "the black teenage unemployment act."
While on Fox News on Wednesday, Laffer said the minimum wage "makes no sense to me."
He added, "I mean, honestly, it's just the teenage — black teenage unemployment act, and this is the very groups that we need to have jobs and not be put out of work because of the minimum wage."
Laffer argued that more teenagers would be hired if employers could pay them less than the $7.25 federal minimum.
His comments were made during a discussion on the possible extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.
In 2012, Laffer, who is considered the father of supply-side economics, was hired by the Brownback administration for $75,000 for consulting work on the governor's tax plan.
Laffer championed Brownback's plans to cut income tax rates, eliminate credits and deductions and rely more heavily on the sales tax.
At the time, Laffer also supported Brownback's plan to end the state portion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps low-income, working Kansans. Later, Brownback backed off that proposal.
Topeka – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis announced that three former legislators, all Republicans, will lead the campaign's Republicans for Davis group.
“I am deeply committed to restoring the Kansas tradition of bipartisan cooperation in the governor’s office," Davis said Monday.
Davis, from Lawrence, is the House minority leader and likely Democratic challenger in November to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
In response to the announcement, Brownback's campaign spokesman David Kensinger referred to Davis' support of President Barack Obama.
"There are only so many Kansans willing to vote for a guy who doubled down on the Obama agenda as an Obama Delegate in 2008 and 2012," Kensinger said.
And James Echols, chair of Democrats for Brownback, issued a statement, saying that many Democrats appreciate Brownback's leadership. "Sam Brownback has shown the right mix of courage and vision to lead our state," said Echols, president of the board of Economic Opportunity Foundation Inc., of Kansas City, Kan.
Davis said he wanted Republicans and independent voters to be part of his campaign and administration if elected.
The three Republicans who will serve as co-chairs of Republicans for Davis are former House Speaker Wendell Lady of Overland Park and former House members Charlie Roth of Salina and Fred Gatlin of Atwood.
Lady said Brownback's income tax cuts, which included eliminating income taxes for nearly 200,000 business owners, "is the most unfair tax legislation ever enacted in Kansas." Brownback has said the cuts will stimulate the economy.
Roth said the state was going in the wrong direction under Brownback and that Davis has helped engineer bipartisan passage of key legislation. Gatlin said Davis would bring people together.
In Kansas, Republican registered voters outnumber Democrats by more than 341,000 out of the state's 1.7 million voters.
Topeka — The presence of the American Legislative Exchange Council agenda in the Kansas Legislature can't be denied, but Gov. Sam Brownback thinks the perception of ALEC's influence is "overblown."
"They do model legislation, they have meetings, but there are probably hundreds of groups that do model legislation and hold meetings. I think it gets overblown a lot," Brownback said during an interview Monday with the Lawrence Journal-World.
ALEC describes itself as a group that promotes free markets, limited government, federalism and individual freedom. But its critics say it is a front for corporate interests that push legislation in Statehouses across the nation.
Both Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, have held high-ranking positions with ALEC over the years.
Approximately 50 Kansas legislators, all Republicans, are members of the group.
In recent years, the Republican-dominated Legislature and Brownback have approved numerous ALEC-developed bills.
Brownback's personal and business income tax cuts are modeled after ALEC policies. In 2011, Brownback wrote a foreword to ALEC’s annual report, “Rich States, Poor States,” which is written by economist Art Laffer, whom Brownback hired as a $75,000 consultant on Kansas’ tax-cutting plan.
Brownback also signed into law the ALEC-inspired Health Care Freedom Act, which was designed as an impediment to federal health reform.
In recent years, ALEC has come under increased criticism and has been losing corporate members after civil rights and government watchdog groups complained about ALEC's push for voter ID and so-called "stand your ground" laws.
A poll one year before the 2014 gubernatorial election may not be that significant, but the SurveyUSA poll released last week that shows a close race between Democratic challenger Paul Davis and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has some interesting highlights.
Overall, the poll shows Davis, the House minority leader from Lawrence, with 43 percent of the vote to Brownback's 39 percent. The survey has a plus or minus margin of error of 4.4 percent.
The result follows an earlier SurveyUSA poll that showed Brownback with high disapproval ratings and Davis with low name identification, so the subsequent poll showing Davis ahead may be the result of an anti-Brownback sentiment more than a pro-Davis sentiment.
Minority voters and women break toward Davis, but what I found most interesting is that in the age categories, Brownback wins 18- to 34-year-olds, 43 percent to 38 percent, but Davis wins 35- to 49-year-olds, 42 percent to 35 percent; and 50- to 64-year-olds, 50 percent to 34 percent. The two split the 65-plus vote.
Think of people in that 35- to 64-year-old range. That's responsibility time. Raising families, getting kids through school, into college, etc. And a big chunk of the folks in that age range have been tempered by the Great Recession economy and its aftershocks. These folks, according to the poll, are supporting Davis.
The poll also asks voters what are their top issues. When the top issue is education, Davis is far ahead of Brownback, 75 percent to 14 percent, but when the top issue is the economy, Brownback leads among those voters, 46 percent to 37 percent, and when the top issue is crime, Brownback leads again, 46 percent to 33 percent.
Probably the most positive aspect of the poll for Davis, is that among those voters who describe themselves as moderate, Davis leads 58 percent to 28 percent. Davis and his lieutenant governor running mate, Jill Docking, must collect votes from independents and moderate Republicans to win a year from now.
The old adage that the more things change the more they stay the same is certainly true in politics.
The likely election contest featuring the Democratic team of Paul Davis and Jill Docking running against Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer has already produced themes that sound similar to those used in 1996 when Docking battled Brownback for a U.S. Senate seat.
The 1996 campaign was an intense, sometimes bitter race.
Brownback accused Docking of being a tax-and-spend liberal and linked her to national Democratic figures including then-U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was unpopular with Kansas voters.
Docking said Brownback represented an extremist right wing agenda on social issues as she tried mightily to win over moderate Republicans.
Fast forward to the current political climate and what do we see?
Republicans are trying to link Davis and Docking to national Democrats; in this case, President Barack Obama, another unpopular pol in Kansas.
Meanwhile, Davis and Docking are trying to appeal to moderate Republicans and independents, saying that Brownback represents a right-wing faction that is more interested in giving tax breaks to the wealthy than funding education.
In 1996, the Docking-Brownback campaign was for the unexpired term of Bob Dole, who was the Republican nominee for president. Docking was a political newcomer, although she came from a famous Kansas political family. Brownback was an up-and-coming conservative who, as a freshman U.S. House member, bucked state party leaders by defeating in the GOP primary Sheila Frahm, who had been appointed to replace Dole.
In the general election, the Christian Coalition played a heavy role, putting out voting guides that said Docking supported "taxpayer funding of obscene art," which Docking denied.
Polls had indicated the race was tight, but Brownback won by more than 10 percentage points.
While some of the campaign themes seem similar to today, one thing that was novel in 1996 won't be in 2014. When the returns rolled in, state election officials posted the results on something called the Internet.