Gov. Sam Brownback has had plenty of help in turning Kansas into a national punch line the last few years.
Brownback’s delusions about his budget-destroying income tax cuts, his imperious approach to governing and his dismissive attitude toward poor people have damaged the future of the Sunflower State.
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But Brownback has not been alone.
Here’s part of the gang that’s gone along for the ride through the state’s debacles.
▪ The Republican-dominated Legislature has been in Brownback’s camp on almost all major decisions.
They especially include the 2012 income tax cuts that have slashed more than $600 million a year in revenue, preventing the state from providing better public services to 3 million Kansans. And the Legislature in 2015 approved large sales and cigarette tax increases. Today the state suffers problems at various state agencies, ranging from an understaffed Highway Patrol to huge concerns about K-12 education funding.
▪ House Speaker Ray Merrick of Stilwell has been a trusty sidekick, unable to accomplish much of anything positive. Among his failings, he removed more moderate and thoughtful Republicans from committees he controls. That damaged the House’s ability to pass thoughtful bills to help Kansans, including Medicaid expansion.
▪ Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita has been a mild Brownback critic one moment, then a big supporter the next. That’s where she is at a crucial time in the current veto session, when she should be leading the charge to repeal parts of the 2012 budget cuts.
▪ Revenue Director Nick Jordan has dutifully marched out to announce the monthly budget numbers with a cheerful attitude that ignores all reality. Such as this: The state missed its budget predictions for almost the entire last year. Jordan should have been more professional in alerting Kansans to the real fiscal challenges facing the state.
▪ Budget Director Shawn Sullivan has had the admittedly difficult job of trying to repair the great damage done by the income tax cuts in balancing the budget. But he, too, has refused to be more honest with Kansans about the troubles created by the administration. Example: He recently dismissed concerns that the state was thinking about selling off parts of its tobacco tax settlement for a one-time infusion of funds. The public soon found out that this was true, damaging Sullivan’s credibility.
▪ Transportation Secretary Mike King has been another happy warrior, telling Kansans that everything will be just fine, even as Brownback has swept hundreds of millions of dollars out of the agency’s accounts to protect his tax cuts. But the latest planned diversion of another $185 million will now lead to 25 delayed projects around the state. That’s prompted large amounts of angst from contractors, who accurately point out that the lack of highway funds leads to a lack of jobs in Kansas.
▪ Jeff Colyer, lieutenant governor, has been known to many Kansans as the guy who questionably loaned money to Brownback to help him get re-elected in 2014. Colyer also is the point man behind the scenes on the troubled KanCare program that administers Medicaid-supported care to more than 350,000 people.
A host of other bit players have pushed Brownback’s misguided agendas. They include staff economists, the Kansas Policy Institute and ultra-conservative groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council.
The Koch brothers loom in there, too.
When all is said and done, the Sunflower State will survive Brownback — and Merrick, Wagle, Jordan, Sullivan, Colyer and the others who have allowed these travesties to occur.
But all share the shame of how they have harmed Kansas.