On Monday, Gov. Sam Brownback sounded downright irritated that he had to deign to consider passing out extra tax dollars to Kansas schools facing tough times.
Eventually, the governor voted along with other Republicans on the State Finance Council that he leads to give out only $6 million of the $12 million in funding sought by K-12 superintendents because of extraordinary needs, such as higher student populations or lower property assessments.
The Olathe School District got none of the money it requested. Kansas City, Kan., schools received only 20 percent of the $2 million they asked for in expectation of educating several hundred more students this year.
Still, no one was surprised by the imperious actions of Brownback on Monday, or of the other GOP legislators who follow his approach, led by House Speaker Ray Merrick and Senate President Susan Wagle.
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In fact, this often contemptuous approach to governing has become part and parcel of Brownback’s governance style in Topeka, especially since his re-election last November.
If Brownback had an old-fashioned enemies list, it would look like this:
▪ Schools lead the way, unfortunately.
Monday’s action was just the latest example of how Brownback considers himself at war with superintendents, teachers and parents who think high-quality education — which, yes, can cost a lot of money — is a good investment in Kansas’ future.
In March, Brownback signed into law a bill putting in place a new block grant approach to K-12 funding, undermining a more flexible approach to school support.
Just months later a court ruled the block grants violated both a Supreme Court judgment and the state constitution, while also “promoting inequity among poorer and wealthier districts,” as a Star editorial noted.
Educators still hope the courts will find that the Legislature is underfunding schools, likely to the tune of a half-billion dollars a year. Indeed, the fact that many school superintendents support a lawsuit against the state meant to get them extra money was the big elephant in the room during Monday’s discussion, basically making adversaries out of Brownback and the educators.
Going back to April 2014, Brownback approved a new law that included the repeal of tenure for teachers. At the time, both Merrick and Wagle defended the move — even that part of the bill was never discussed at a public hearing, where teachers and school administrators could have commented on it.
▪ Gays are targets of the governor’s wrath, too.
In February, Brownback signed an executive order that rescinded protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender state workers.
Essentially, the governor opened back up the potential for them to be discriminated against, fired or harassed because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
In June, Brownback harshly criticized the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. He staunchly defended the state-approved ban on such unions — ignoring the fact that federal courts trumped that law.
Rather than be magnanimous in defeat, Brownback seemed to keep open the possibility that the state would try to violate the rights of gay people to wed in the future.
▪ Brownback’s war on judges is still in motion.
He seems focused on trying to coerce the judiciary into following his dictates; never mind the three-legged stool of government or separation of powers.
The governor earlier this year signed into law an almost unbelievable measure that would eliminate funding for state courts if they eventually strike down a law passed by the Legislature in 2014.
That bill said the State Supreme Court could no longer appoint chief judges for district courts. Instead, the district courts could do that themselves as well as setting their own budgets, something the Supreme Court has done for years.
Brownback in January also called for changing how the Supreme Court is appointed, including one proposal that would allow the executive branch to do that — wresting the power away from a commission that now puts forward candidates’ names to the governor.
Overall, this approach is Brownback’s way to try to have much more control over who sits on the court, especially when it is called upon to decide whether he and the Legislature are acting in accord with the state constitution. Think: school funding.
▪ Finally, the poor can’t catch a break under Brownback — unlike the businesses and farmers he’s helping with aggressively defended special income tax breaks.
In April, the governor signed into law a bill that set strict requirements for how much welfare recipients could receive and how they could use the funds. No more massage parlors and cruise ships for the welfare queens.
It was yet another slam against a group of people that it’s easy for Brownback and the GOP to demonize for political purposes.
Except that many of the poor are children who obviously aren’t in the workforce. Their parents are targeted by the law, and the children are swept up in the mix.
Earlier this month, the state set aside the most inane part of the law, which would have allowed welfare recipients to take out just $25 at a time in ATM withdrawals — an odious measure that the Brownback administration backed until the end.
Brownback’s supporters have their answers to why he he has pursued these and other policies. Read the linked stories to get those views.
But in reality, the governor does not have to care what his critics think. He was elected not just once but a second time, and that 2014 campaign came when the people of Kansas had good evidence of what kind of governor they had put in place in Topeka.
To the winners go the spoils, and Brownback won.
Meanwhile, his “enemies” continue to lose. Too bad they don’t deserve to be on that list.