Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley is a pain in the butt for Gov. Sam Brownback.
And that’s a good thing for Kansans.
Check out what Hensley, a Democrat, said about the Republican governor’s costly income tax cuts.
“It is almost like the governor and his folks are oblivious,” Hensley said, riffing on reductions for education, social programs, transportation and other services.
How prescient. After all, Hensley’s criticism of the “oblivious” Brownback came way back in August 2012, as the senator predicted public service reductions and the Legislative Research Department projected large shortfalls from the tax cuts passed that year.
Fast forward to this week, as Kansans got more appalling news about the state budget.
The state’s ever-ballooning financial crisis includes borrowing $900 million, taking $45 million from a Medicaid fund, stealing more sales tax money from highway repairs and cutting state support for prisons. The state’s revenue swoon is continuing in June, budget officials say.
And on Thursday, lawmakers were desperately trying to find pennies in the couch to keep public schools open past June 30.
The day before, Hensley had tried to persuade Brownback into finally taking some responsibility for the “fiscal mismanagement” that slashed income taxes for Kansans, eliminated them for 330,000 LLCs and reduced state revenues a whopping $650 million a year.
“When is it we’re going to admit that what is happening in this state is wrong?” Hensley asked at Wednesday’s meeting of the State Finance Council. “We are in a downward spiral when it comes to the fiscal management of this state, and we have to correct our house.”
Brownback responded, “Well, Sen. Hensley, I couldn’t disagree more with you.”
Those are dismaying words from a governor who continues to ignore reality, even as the state’s financial fortunes have further deteriorated in the last few months. Brownback blames everything but himself for the state’s budget woes.
He claims — without providing any compelling evidence — that the economy would be worse off without the tax cuts.
He decries what he calls the plights of the state’s farming and oil communities. However, other agriculturally dependent states, especially Iowa, are booming with job growth while Kansas has lost employment over the last year.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, on Wednesday blamed the budget woes on overspending.
“We’re here because we haven’t cut expenses enough,” she said.
But that tough-sounding stance conveniently discounts Wagle’s own backing of the tax cuts.
Brownback suffers from the same denial of his responsibility to provide solid services to Kansans.
This week he downplayed his role in difficult budget decisions, saying, “The appropriations process is part of the legislative process by the Constitution. It’s not something that I can personally do. It involves everybody.”
Take a closer look at the truth.
The governor actually lays out his proposed budget at the start of every year. If Brownback had wanted to make deep spending cuts necessary to balance the Kansas budget, he could have done it in 2013. Or in 2014, 2015 or 2016.
Brownback also has a spending-control hammer in the Constitution, which allows him to veto appropriations in bills approved by the Legislature.
As Kansans saw again this week, the toxic mix of a clueless governor and defiant extremist Republican lawmakers is endangering the quality of life for 3 million people in the Sunflower State.