Sam Brownback, when he was a U.S. Senator, was considered a “compassionate conservative.” Among other things, he championed immigration reform proposed by former President George W. Bush, which included a form of amnesty.
By STEVE ROSE
Special to The Star
He also worked tirelessly to help underdeveloped regions, like Darfur in Sudan and earned an “A” from organizations involved in aiding that African nation.
Although very conservative, he was known for his warm heart. There is even a book about him called “From Power to Purpose; A Remarkable Journey of Faith and Compassion.”
Now he is governor of Kansas, and some people are wondering, what happened to “compassionate Sam?”
Well, I happen to think he’s still there. It’s just that his obsession with lowering taxes has come into conflict with his compassionate side.
Although he does not want to have to choose, his tax cutting has him against the wall.
Brownback has told the Legislature, which must find several hundred million dollars of cuts to balance the budget — some estimate billions over the next several years — that he does not want them to touch his three sacred cows.
They are schools, medical care for the poor and public safety.
At first blush, that sounds not only sensible, but there is compassion in there, too.
So far, so good.
Even his detractors would have to say he has chosen three of the highest priorities to shelter from the storm.
But what will really happen to those priorities, as the generous tax cuts come into play?
The overwhelming majority of the state’s budget supports public schools, higher education, and Medicaid for the poor. Public safety, less so.
How can the Legislature find enough discretionary budget items to decimate in order to keep hands off of the governor’s priorities?
Brownback thinks he has two aces up his sleeve.
One is his strong admonition that a one-cent sales tax be renewed, even though it was mostly to expire in July because it is a “temporary” three-year tax.
If the anti-tax, ultra-conservative Legislature will go along — and there are serious doubts that it will — that could mean an extra $250 million a year. That won’t plug the hole from his tax cuts, but it would be a big help, at least in the first year. In subsequent years, however, the projected deficit climbs and climbs and climbs. That sales tax money will become a pimple if the projected deficit of $2.5 billion actually occurs.
The second ace is his hope and prayer that the lowered taxes will generate so many extra jobs, the extra revenue from those jobs will eat away at the deficit.
Even if there is a rush of new jobs, they will have to hurry to be created.
To outrun the impending deficit, we will need tens of thousands of jobs to spring up almost overnight. If that does not happen, and the governor’s optimism falls short, the cuts in state government expenditures will be beyond the pale.
If his anticipated economic boom does not materialize quickly, there just is no math that will allow the state to balance its budget over the next several years without cutting deeply into the three sacred cows.
That’s where the governor’s compassion could run smack dab into reality.
It is easy to tell the Legislature to “fix the deficit problem and balance the budget” without touching his three high-priced priorities. It is quite another for the Legislature to actually find enough to cut without giving the three priorities the ax.
Sam Brownback may pull out a miracle and have his cake and eat it, too. The jobs may arrive like the cavalry and save the day.
Personally, I think the governor is well-intentioned and, yes, compassionate. I just think his tax-cutting fervor will leave a legacy of destruction to the very things he holds dear.
To reach Steve Rose, a Johnson County columnist, send email to email@example.com.