Government & Politics

Senate Republicans call for a ‘better Kansas’ but avoid criticizing Gov. Sam Brownback

Everything is on the table.

That was the message from Senate President Susan Wagle on Wednesday as she spoke about a plan from Republican candidates for the Kansas Senate “to better Kansas.”

The latest move by GOP candidates for the Kansas Legislature comes with about a month left before Election Day.

The presentation also came in the midst of a week of bad budget news for the Brownback administration. A report released Monday showed that the state’s budget shortfall has grown to around $60 million.

“I promise you, when we walk out the door, this shortfall will be resolved,” Wagle said. “It will be a long-term fix. We will be more engaged.”

Though the administration has said it will not make across-the-board cuts, some changes are likely to come because of the latest shortfall.

“That’s why everything is on the table,” said Wagle, a Wichita Republican. “There’s no one solution. We are in a serious financial situation and we can’t tax our way out of it, we can’t cut our way out of it, the loophole doesn’t fix it. It’s going to have to be a number of different bills that come together and balance the budget.”

A pamphlet passed out at the announcement said that “Kansas is on the wrong track.”

The message ran somewhat contrary to the primary election campaigns of several moderate Republicans who ousted conservative incumbents.

In those campaigns, many of which were centered on education funding, candidates called for a rollback of the tax cuts that Gov. Sam Brownback championed in 2012. Those cuts, which took roughly 330,000 limited liability corporations and other businesses off the tax rolls, have been a major talking point in both the primary and general election campaigns.

Wagle frequently lambasted Kansas Democratic candidates for campaigning against the two-term governor, rather than suggesting solutions.

“The Democrats don’t have a plan,” Wagle said. “They haven’t put forward budgets, they haven’t put forward tax plans. They don’t have a plan.”

The Senate Republicans’ proposal calls for restoration of the “rainy day fund,” which it says is empty, and the creation of a legislative oversight committee to help balance the budget and keep state agencies accountable. It also makes a point that taxation should be fair across the board, likely a nod to candidates’ criticism of the 2012 tax cuts and the nicknamed “LLC loophole.”

“Some currently do not pay any taxes while others who do the same job are taxed unfairly,” the plan reads.

If the Senate does not pass a balanced budget within the first 70 days of the session, the plan calls for legislators to forfeit their salary until a decision is reached.

“We just want the job done,” Wagle said.

The plan also calls for further government transparency for the public’s benefit, including live streaming legislative meetings and Senate business.

Around 10 candidates joined Wagle at the press conference, though the plan included the names of 26 Senate candidates, including conservatives like incumbent Steve Fitzgerald of Leavenworth and moderates like candidate Ed Berger of Hutchinson and incumbent Jeff Longbine of Emporia.

Notably absent from the agreement were Johnson County moderates Dinah Sykes and John Skubal. Both have run campaigns that have criticized Brownback’s policies.

After briefly reviewing the plan, one Democratic leader said the ideas show that the Kansas GOP is worried that disowning Brownback would alienate its voting base.

“I would say the vast majority of people that are on this list remain Brownback allies,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka. “And that’s why our candidates ... (are) running on the idea that we need change. We need to move beyond Brownback and we need a change in the Senate to bring more moderate people together so we can form a bipartisan coalition that we’ve had in the past.”

Brownback, who is term limited, is set to leave office after the next election for governor in 2018. A poll in September from Morning Consult said Brownback was the most unpopular governor in America, with an approval rating of 23 percent.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw