April 17, 2014

Brownback’s first term unremarkable so far

Martin Hawver
Guest columnist
We’ll know in the next three weeks whether Gov. Sam Brownback has  driven the state along his Roadmap for Kansas, or whether he’s going to have to pull over to ask directions.
The first real all-his legislative session—last year, he was to some degree just using up the last of the milk left to him by preceding Democratic governors—has produced just one clear victory.
He got the substantial changes he championed for state water law passed and into the statute book, but the next three, maybe four, weeks of the Legislature’s wrap-up session will determine whether he has any other scalps to hang off his belt.
Now, the water law changes were dramatic for those who watch that sort of thing, but for most of the state where water rights mean who gets to the sink first, it wasn’t an earth-moving event.
Brownback’s dramatic school finance plan rework never got off the ground, but again, that’s primarily an issue that is complicated, and most voters’ contact with school finance legislation comes when their local school district announces the mill levy for K-12 schools.
The governor appears to have his massive re-working of the state’s Medicaid system for the state’s poor, children and elderly virtually locked up. For those of us with health insurance, it’s hard to see just what is changing, but basically KanCare—the renamed Medicaid system—hands over the complicated management of care and payment for care for 380,000 Kansans to maybe three private contractors.
It may reduce costs and make more care available for more people, that’s Brownback’s goal, and it is likely to work. It is causing concern among some disability interest groups about the speed with which the governor is making the massive change, but it is also one of those things that can be done essentially from Brownback’s desk without a lot of opportunity for the Legislature to step in and complicate—or derail.
It’s probably down to taxes and reapportionment that the governor will be graded on this session. His basic reapportionment plan is, very simply, to scatter the pockets of relatively high density Democratic voters—Wyandotte, Douglas and Shawnee counties—among separate congressional districts.
Simply, it would mean that virtually any Republican who doesn’t have a restraining order against him/her can be elected to Congress, and the same principle applies to the state Senate redistricting. That’s the blunt, if  politically indelicate, way to describe it.
Strategically for a Republican governor, that’s the right plan. Getting it done will be a test.
And, there are also taxes. Here, it’s also murky.
Just cutting taxes across-the-board, so everyone pays a little less and enjoys it, would be simple. But Brownback isn’t proposing to do it the simple way. He wants to eliminate state income taxes paid by small businesses and corporations, and toss in some individual rate cuts unevenly—the wealthy get bigger percentage cuts than the middle and lower income Kansans.
That’s the problem the Legislature will struggle with. Whose taxes do you cut? If you buy the governor’s concept that lower taxes on businesses will mean they hire more people and make Kansas more prosperous, well, he’s right. If you believe businesses that hire more employees merely because they have lower taxes are run by fools, then maybe that’s not the way to go.
And, we’ll see which way the Legislature goes, and whether Brownback will claim a victory in tax policy with or without those business tax cuts. A canny governor will take whatever tax cuts he can get out of the Legislature and declare victory.
Then, we all get to grade him.
Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this statewide political news service, visit the website at www.hawvernews.com.

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