Danedri Thompson
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The state of Kansas is strong, but Gov. Sam Brownback told members of the Kansas Legislature during his annual State of the State Address on Jan. 15.
The Governor highlighted a list of accomplishments, including reducing the public sector workforce by more than 3,000 positions, and growing state general fund expenditures. He said the state added 59,000 jobs since 2009, and the welfare rolls have been cut in half.
However, Sen. Anthony Hensley, in his Democratic response to Brownback’s address, said that the state not in good fiscal shape.
“I’m here tonight to give you the real, and frankly somber, state of our state,” Hensley said. “While many regions of our nation are making steady progress, the state of our state is bad.”
Hensley said under Brownback’s “irresponsible and reckless economic experiment,” state revenues dropped $700 million short last year, resulting in a credit downgrade. Hensley also noted that state economic experts estimate the current state budget will fall $280 million short.
Brownback’s proposed two-year budget would continue the march to an income tax rate of zero.
“…The states with no income tax consistently grow faster than those with high income taxes,” Brownback said. “There may be some who consider this course too bold. Well, I’m the sort of guy who would have sent Alex Gordon from third base.”
However Brownback’s proposed two-year budget, announced on Jan. 16, includes revenue enhancements. It would increase taxes on cigarettes and liquor. On cigarettes, his proposal would hike the tax rate per pack from 79 cents to $2.29 cents.
The remaining budget hole would be filled via additional spending cuts and specifically by changes to the state school funding finance formula.
“A majority of the projected shortfall we face is due to increases in K-12 spending,” Brownback said.
The current school financing formula is designed not to be understood, Brownback told legislators. It’s designed to “lock in automatic, massive increases in spending unrelated to actual student populations or improved student achievement.”
He suggested a “timeout” on the school finance wars.
The Governor proposed funding K-12 education with block grants while legislators work to reconfigure the current school finance formula.
“To me, that’s another way of saying, ‘Let’s pass the buck to local school boards and taxpayers to pay more for their schools,’” Hensley said in his response to the Governor’s speech.
A three-panel district court in December ruled that state education funding is unconstitutional, which Hensley said came as no surprise to many in the Kansas Legislature.
Brownback and Hensley both spoke of vision for Kansas that provides a bright future for its children. They differed on the course to achieve that vision however.
Hensley said the state should add funding to Kansas schools, while Brownback suggested strengthening families should be a priority.