August 9, 2016

During a recent interview with Mike Shanin on Kansas City Public Television, Gov. Sam Brownback was defiant about the defeat of his legislative allies in last week’s primary.

When Shanin asked Brownback if the success of moderates — many of whom are hostile to the LLC tax exemption, highway fund sweeps, etc. — was a “repudiation of your policies,” the governor responded: “I don’t think it’s that, but I think it is a lack of us getting out there the information. If you analyze what really went on, the core issue was school funding — most people would say this is about the issue of school funding.”

He made this point several times during the interview — when Shanin mentioned Brownback’s low approval rating, he again attributed it to school funding: “I think you’ve got to break it down and say, OK, what am I being criticized for? And when you break it down, it’s primarily K-12 funding …” But this isn’t the only issue on voters’ minds — Kansans are also concerned about the revenue crisis, which has forced the state to delay pension payments, cut contributions to KanCare, universities and many state agencies and sweep money out of the highway fund.

Brownback was probably so eager to mention K-12 funding because it’s one of the few budget items that hasn’t seen a drastic reduction in the past few months.

Tom Cox, who unseated Shawnee Rep. Brett Hildabrand in the primary, said he knocked on “over 5,000 doors” and encountered widespread frustration with Brownback’s tax policies: “It was 100 percent a repudiation of his policies and specifically, the No. 1 was actually tax, not education.” As noted above, tax policy encompasses practically every major issue — from health care to infrastructure to education. As such, Brownback can’t keep avoiding it — he needs to acknowledge that the people of his state are ready for a new approach.

When Brownback did discuss the revenue crisis, he cited the depressed agriculture, oil and gas industries as the “primary problems” — an assertion his administration often makes without providing any evidence.

While it’s true that the agriculture, oil and gas sectors have contracted, they comprise less than 5 percent of the Kansas economy. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, “agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting” account for $4.2 billion of the state’s GDP, while “mining” (which includes “liquid minerals, such as crude petroleum; and gases, such as natural gas”) makes up almost $1.2 billion.

As of the first quarter of 2016, Kansas’ overall GDP was $148 billion.

Meanwhile, according to the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, tax cuts cost the state $726 million in revenue between 2012 and 2014. To use Brownback’s words, the “primary problem” is his refusal to reinstate reasonable taxes in Kansas — not reduced tax collections from industries that represent a small fraction of the state’s economy.

Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal here.

ClayTOPEKA CAPITAL JOURNAL: Editorial: Brownback fails to understand Kansans’ concerns