Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s last scheduled day in office is Jan. 14, 2019. Right now, he appears hellbent on causing as much damage to the state’s future as he can before his final term ends.
Fortunately, lawmakers and voters have the power to stop him from irreparably harming Kansas.
The problems with the state’s budget — largely caused by the blatantly unfair 2012 income tax cuts Brownback pushed — are excruciatingly clear to just about everyone, even leading Republicans. Just last week the governor had to announce plans to slice an additional $290 million from providing state services.
Today, let’s focus on short- and long-term solutions to what’s the matter with Kansas, especially as the GOP-dominated Legislature returns to Topeka to take up a raft of crucial issues.
The lawmakers cannot expect any help from Brownback. His delusions about how the state is doing were on full display in an audacious fundraising letter he sent last Thursday — the day after the budget woes were announced. His take? The liberal media and Democrats are his big problems. He totally ignored the financial bloodbath taking place all around him. Oh, and on Monday came news that the budget troubles again are endangering Kansas’ credit ratings.
The next month
Almost all of Brownback’s proposed options to fix the budget mess carry significant risks to the state’s future.
By himself, he can divert an additional $185 million from transportation purposes. Kansas, which had the nation’s fifth best roads by one estimate using 2012 figures, will be slipping down those rankings. Brownback already has taken hundreds of millions of dollars from the Kansas Department of Transportation in a desperate bid to keep his tax cuts alive.
The Legislature does have the power to reject his other options.
Lawmakers should not change the state’s tobacco settlement and endanger funding for children’s programs for decades.
House and Senate members should not allow the state to miss a $100 million payment into public employee pensions. When in the world would it ever be paid back? All state and local workers are making their scheduled payments into the pension pot. The state should, too.
The Legislature also ought to kill Brownback’s lazy, misguided option to cut state services across the board.
Acting more responsibly, the Legislature must vote to reinstate income taxes on 330,000 businesses and farmers. That would raise enough to prevent lasting damage to needed state programs.
August 2016 elections
In just a few months, Kansas voters will need to kick out some of the worst Republican offenders in the Legislature — the House and Senate members who too often have defiantly backed Brownback’s wrongheaded policies.
Johnson County will be ground zero for this battle. The list of senators eligible for not returning include Jim Denning, Julia Lynn, Jeff Melcher, Mary Pilcher-Cook and Greg Smith. On the House side they are Keith Esau, Amanda Grosserode, Brett Hildabrand, Jerry Lunn, Charles Macheers, Craig McPherson, Ray Merrick and Ron Ryckman.
The filing deadline is June 1. Then it will be a sprint to the primaries to make sure voters know who needs to go.
But be warned: Brownback in 2012 helped muscle out some moderate Republicans who had stood in his way after his first two years in office.
Do not underestimate the cunning of a politician and his ultra-conservative supporters eager to hang on to power by fervently backing the governor’s GOP puppets.
November 2016 elections
Voters will have to evaluate the best candidates put forth by both parties. Simply having an “R” after the name should not be enough to ensure election, even in central and western Kansas.
But throwing out moderate Republicans who have served the state well — including Johnson County Reps. Melissa Rooker, Stephanie Clayton and Barbara Bollier — is not the answer either.
The Legislature will need experienced, capable elected officials to get through the next two years because Brownback will still be governor.
2017-2018 legislative sessions
The all-important question here will center on whether a more responsible Legislature can start to repair the damage Brownback and his followers did in the first six years to Kansas.
Brownback may try to continue his reckless “march to zero” on income taxes; the Legislature must stomp out that bad idea.
The governor will pursue other ideas in the social realm, likely aimed at poor people, gays and refugees. Again, a new Legislature must not let Kansas swirl further into the gutter with even more intolerance for minority populations.
November 2018 elections
Kansans will have the opportunity to elect a more rational and forward-thinking governor, from either party.
The next governor will need to put the future of the state ahead of any personal goal of conducting an “experiment” on the Kansas economy.
And voters must keep in place House and Senate members who have acted in the best interests of adequately funding education and other key state services.
January 14, 2019
The state Constitution calls for the next governor to be sworn in on the second Monday of 2019. Brownback will leave office. Hallelujah.