In a state reeling from damage done by costly tax cuts he championed, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is scheduled to give his State of the State address Thursday night.
Given the negative national attention focused on Brownback in recent months, this could be the most important speech in recent Kansas history. What will happen to funding for already-strapped K-12 schools, pensions and social services along with state highway projects?
Which brings us to the special Sam Brownback “State of the State drinking game” that can be enjoyed during the speech.
The simple rules: Take a big gulp of your favorite beverage (alcoholic or not, though I’m sure Brownback would prefer it be non-alcoholic) every time you hear a certain word or phrase. To handicap this game, let’s use a scale of 0 to 3 gulps.
▪ “Tax cuts” — 0 gulps
C’mon, I don’t want you drunk in the first few minutes of the speech. Of course Brownback likely will use this phrase over and over. Tax cuts are the whole reason for his political being. They were put in place with great fanfare and promises two years ago but went fiscally dangerously off course in 2014, bleeding the state of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
And yet, Kansas voters re-elected Brownback last fall....
▪ “Grand jury” — 3 gulps
As reported last week, a federal grand jury is looking into loans made to Brownback’s re-election campaign, most likely $500,000 loans from Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer. It’s unlikely Brownback will mention this rather alarming turn of events.
But if he does, swig away.
▪ “Obama” — 2 gulps
President Barack Obama is a convenient scapegoat for everything going wrong in Kansas, at least according to his detractors in the Brownback administration. Obama’s economic policies, for instance, supposedly accounted for the sharp drop-off in Kansas revenues last spring.
Unfortunately for Brownback’s allies who spewed this nonsense, almost no other state in the nation suffered the kind of steep fall that Kansas did.
▪ “Jobs” — 1 gulp
The most recent jobs report for Kansas was bad news. As in extremely bad news: Employment in the state fell 4,100 in November, even while the number of jobs rose in 37 other states.
However, Brownback remains fearless (or clueless) in continuing to claim that income tax cuts will spur grand leaps forward in employment. He has said Kansas will add an average of 2,000 jobs a month over the next four years. By comparison, the state gained slightly more than 1,000 a month in 2014 through November.
▪ “Family” — 1 gulp
As we saw earlier this week, Brownback also can try to make people pay attention to other issues. In his inaugural speech, the governor returned to a tried-and-true Republican chestnut of talking about the need to build better families. No argument here.
But the most gag-inducing moment came when Brownback said, “Our culture is at its best when we protect and encourage the weakest. Every life, at every stage, in every place has a dignity beyond our imagining.”
This from the same governor who adamantly refuses to expand Medicaid to help save lives and improve health care for tens of thousands of less-fortunate Kansans, including many who hold jobs that don’t pay enough for them to get adequate health care.
▪ “Look out Texas, here comes Kansas!” — 3 gulps
Back in more optimistic times — before reality smacked Brownback and Kansans in the face — the governor said in his 2013 State of the State address that he was aiming to take on the Lone Star State when it came to reducing taxes.
The boast about taking on Texas is very unlikely to be repeated Thursday night. But if it is, drink away.
You can expect to hear other Brownback buzzwords as well, ones that served him well during his successful re-election campaign.
“Sun is shining in Kansas” might get slipped in. He’ll have some empty words to say about improved funding for “education” and for “keeping more of your money” to taxpayers.
Ultimately, though, Brownback and the Legislature will have to stop talking and start governing.
First up: Approve the governor’s flawed proposals on how to slice $280 million from the current year’s budget.
Next: Slash another $400 million or likely far more to balance the 2015-16 fiscal year budget starting July 1.
Here’s hoping state officials are sober enough after Thursday night’s speech to do the heavy lifting required to put Kansas on more solid financial footing.