Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback tried his best on Tuesday to deflect attention from the enormous, self-inflicted problems confronting his state.
It didn’t work. Brownback’s 2016 State of the State address will go on record as one of the biggest shams of his administration.
The Republican governor never mentioned the issue that has consumed the Legislature and left much of state government staggering — the ongoing revenue shortages that likely will require budget cuts of at least $170 million.
Instead, Brownback lashed out at President Barack Obama for his plans to resettle larger numbers of refugees from the Middle East in the United States. He falsely accused Planned Parenthood of “trafficking in baby parts.” He denounced Obamacare and slammed the door on expanding Medicaid eligibility to about 150,000 Kansans.
His speech was a poorly constructed, sometimes incoherent mix of braggadocio, scare tactics and bad ideas.
He boasted of the state’s success in reducing the welfare rolls without acknowledging that actual poverty in Kansas remains stubbornly high.
The governor rambled on about his admiration for teachers, as though flowery language could paper over the stagnant pay and low morale that is causing classroom vacancies around the state.
He announced that the Kansas Highway Patrol recently graduated its largest class of new troopers in recent years. But he didn’t mention that the patrol has 82 fewer officers than it did 10 years ago, or that its commanders have said they have too few troopers to guarantee safety on the highways.
Brownback had the chutzpah to bemoan rising property tax rates, praising legislation he signed last year that prevents communities from raising taxes above the rate of inflation without a vote. He ignored the reality that some cities and counties have been forced to raise property taxes after the governor and Legislature robbed them of funds necessary to provide vital services. Another fact ignored: Brownback backed a large state sales tax increase in 2015.
The speech included the usual attack on Kansas judges and their selection by a merit system.
But it included not one word about how Brownback plans to fix the structural budget crisis that is impairing the ability of state government to protect vulnerable citizens and deliver basic services.
Brownback’s speech wasn’t leadership. It was more deception from a governor who is fooling no one.