Kansas voters face a stark and crucial choice on Nov. 4.
They can stick with Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, whose experiment with deep income tax cuts has led the state to deficit financing, credit downgrades, and a bleak inability to invest in schools and citizens.
Or they can elect his Democratic challenger, Paul Davis, a skillful consensus builder who understands that the way to grow is through great schools and universities, strong communities, and healthy infrastructure and citizens.
In contrast to the unproven theories and magical thinking promoted by Brownback and his lieutenant governor, Jeff Colyer, Davis and running mate Jill Docking propose a pragmatic course that builds upon the assets Kansans have always valued. They are the right team.
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Davis would be a strong candidate even if Brownback had not inflicted such damage. A lawyer who specializes in estate planning, Davis was elected to the Kansas House from Lawrence in 2003. His colleagues chose him as minority leader in 2008, and he is respected as someone who can work with members of the other party and craft bipartisan solutions.
Davis understands Kansas and its issues very well. And that’s good because Brownback and the radical conservatives who control the Legislature have created huge problems.
Two years in a row they sharply cut income taxes for upper-bracket earners and exempted the owners of certain types of businesses from paying any income taxes whatsoever.
Brownback irresponsibly signed the tax cuts into law even after the Legislature scrubbed out offsets, such as elimination of some deductions, that could have mitigated the damage. The resulting growth would more than make up for any revenue losses, he assured Kansans.
It has not. Job growth in Kansas during Brownback’s tenure has lagged slightly behind the nation and most states in the region.
Meanwhile, tax collections in the 2014 fiscal year ended 11 percent lower than the previous year and more than $300 million below estimates.
Despite raiding the highway fund and other desperate measures, the state is spending more than it takes in and draining its reserves.
Brownback’s plan for dealing with the hole he created is to dig deeper. He favors more tax cuts. Davis correctly wants a freeze on more income tax cuts and says he’ll appoint a group to study a fairer, more sensible tax plan.
Davis has a record of supporting public education and pledges to restore funds that have been lost to school districts for day-to-day operations because of the 2008 recession and the Brownback tax cuts. Districts have been forced to lay off teachers, cut back on classroom supplies and in some cases close schools.
Davis favors expanding the state’s Medicaid eligibility limits, a move that would enable Kansas to collect its share of federal funds to expand its medical network and bring the security of health insurance to about 100,000 low-income citizens.
And he supports the nonpartisan system for appointing judges that has served the state well for decades.
Brownback has sacrificed school funding for tax cuts, rejected Medicaid expansion and pushed changes that have empowered him to single-handedly appoint appeals judges. Those moves have been bad for Kansas.
While once Brownback promised that his defining legislative feat, the tax cuts. would hit the Kansas economy like “a shot of adrenaline,” he now pleads for more time.
But Kansas deserves better than to be the subject of a failed experiment. Davis is the candidate in tune with what citizens value. Voters should give him a chance to lead.