The following is text from Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley’s response to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s State of the State:
I’m Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, and this is the Democratic response to Governor Brownback’s State of the State address.
On January 29, 1861, Kansas became the 34th state in the union, joining as a free state.
On the wall of the Capitol visitor’s center is a historical poster calling on people to move to Kansas for “every industrial opportunity, every agricultural opportunity and every social and educational opportunity.”
The poster exclaims “Room for a Million.” All of the opportunities that our great state promoted back
then are now being jeopardized by Sam Brownback and his debilitating economic policies.
And as we just heard, the governor is still in denial about the damage his policies have caused our families and our communities.
In response to his address two years ago, I said the state of our state was bad, and at that time I didn’t think things could get any worse.
But, unfortunately, they have.
The Governor continues to believe that his tax plan is working while he and his legislative allies have had to find harmful ways to pay for it.
They repealed the child care tax credit, mortgage interest and medical expense deductions, Homestead refunds for renters, and the food sales tax rebate for those on fixed incomes.
They approved the largest tax increase in state history, which means Kansans now pay the highest sales tax on food in the country.
They’ve cut K-12 and higher education, reduced disabled and mental health services, taken over $2 billion from our state’s highway fund, and used our state’s retirement system like a credit card.
Even after all those cuts and accounting gimmicks, Kansas has had three credit downgrades, month after
month of revenue shortfalls, and gone $1.4 billion deeper in debt.
To put it simply: Governor Brownback’s economic policies have caused our state to go broke and we are faced with a budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion.
Is there any wonder Sam Brownback has become the most unpopular Governor in America?
And, now, instead of making budget adjustments prior to the 2017 session, the Governor has chosen to do nothing and simply passed the buck to the Legislature.
This is not fiscal responsibility. This is poor leadership.
And the people of Kansas are tired of it.
That is why several dozen of Sam Brownback’s legislative allies were defeated in the 2016 elections.
Voters know his Washington DC-style politics have destroyed our state. But, seemingly oblivious to that, he is now attempting to convince the President-Elect to impose on the country his failed “real live experiment.”
Five years ago when Sam Brownback signed the first round of his reckless tax policies into law, he promised to put more money in Kansans’ pockets.
In reality, he has put more money in the pockets of wealthy Kansans – the top 1%. They are paying less -with some paying nothing at all – and the rest of us are paying more.
How much more?
According to data from the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, the top 1% of wealthy Kansans received an average tax cut of $25,000, while the bottom 1% of low income Kansans got an average tax increase of $200.
Under Governor Brownback’s tax plan 330,000 business owners enjoy a loophole of not paying income taxes. So, while the receptionist in the doctor’s office pays income taxes on every paycheck, the doctor doesn’t.
This tax policy is inherently unfair and must be repealed by the 2017 Legislature.
Yet, when a group of advocacy organizations calling themselves Rise Up Kansas proposed repealing the loophole, reducing the sales tax of food and creating a third income tax bracket, Governor Brownback immediately declared it a tax increase on the middle class. Well, Sam Brownback certainly knows how to increase taxes on the middle class.
Think about this. Under a previous Republican governor, 31% of total state and local taxes came from property and vehicles, 28% came from sales and 28% came from income.
In fact, that governor, Bill Graves, believed our state’s tax system was analogous to a three-legged stool – property, sales and income – that should be closely balanced together.
Under Sam Brownback, our tax system is way out of balanced. 36% of total taxes come from property and vehicles, 31.5% from sales and only 19% from income.
If he has his way, he would cut off the income tax leg of Bill Graves’ three-legged stool. We need economic policy that restores the balance of the three-legged stool and ensures everyone pays their fair share.
The Rise Up Kansas plan may not be the best solution, but it has most certainly started the conversation.
Kansas needs fiscal policy that provides balance and stability.
The only way to fully fund schools and ensure a well-educated, productive workforce is to implement sound fiscal policies.
The only way to improve our highways and bridges, create thousands of new jobs and guarantee safe travel, is to balance the budget.
The only way to keep rural hospitals open and maintain the best possible safety net for the people of Kansas, particularly the most vulnerable among us, is to reverse the Brownback income tax cuts.
None of this will come from an immediate repeal of the LLC loophole, sweeping more funds, or making more cuts.
All of this will come with a full review of current tax and budget policies as well as recommendations from the Alvarez and Marsal efficiency study.
By the way, that study recommends that the Legislature make sure federal tax dollars paid by Kansans are coming back to fully fund services that can be provided to Kansans – an idea repeatedly rejected by the Governor.
The Sam Brownback’s “march to zero” has been just that – a march to zero new jobs. Kansas workers are paying more in taxes, their wages lag behind the rest of the nation, and job growth is nonexistent.
In fact, Kansas actually has fewer jobs than it did a year ago. We have to do better. We must provide more opportunities for all working Kansans. We have to replenish the highway fund in order to continue T-WORKS projects which have been delayed because of the Brownback tax cuts.
Estimates showed the 2010 T-WORKS program could have created 175,000 jobs over ten years, significantly far more jobs than any plan proposed by the Governor.
We have to give priority to Kansas workers for Kansas projects.
Kansas workers need to be highly trained. We have to make long-term investments in education at all levels from early childhood through college and career and technical education programs.
We have to ensure workers have access to quality, affordable healthcare and childcare.
Kansas workers also need better safety in the workplace and better benefits if they are injured on the job.
Kansans value a hard day’s work. It is time we value them. This goes for public employees, too.
These employees are responsible for placing foster children in safe homes; conducting inspections that look out for the health and well-being of Kansans – from the restaurants where we eat to the nursing homes our aging parents live in.
They’re responsible for issuing licenses to the Kansans who work in our schools educating our children and grandchildren.
And, speaking of those who educate Kansas children, they should once again be treated as the professionals they are and their due process rights should be restored.
Public employees are responsible for solving crimes, keeping criminals off of our streets, responding to emergencies, and clearing our streets and highways after a winter storm.
They, too, are hardworking Kansans trying to provide for their families.
Unfortunately, the Brownback administration has dramatically cut our state workforce and stripped them of their classification system, forcing most to choose between employment protections or a pay raise.
State employees deserve to have their civil service protections restored. They should be hired and promoted based on their merit, not on their politics.
Let me conclude by speaking to one of the most serious challenges facing this year’s Legislature – the task of creating a new school finance formula.
I believe that task should’ve started already since the temporary two-year block grants will expire at the end of this school year.
The process of developing a new formula should be as open and transparent as possible, which was NOT the case in creating the block grant plan.
First and foremost, a new formula must give all students a quality education, regardless of their family’s income, where they live or their individual needs.
A new formula should be funded on a multi-year basis giving local school boards more certainty in making their budget decisions.
A new formula should allow decisions to be left to the school board in partnership with employees, parents and patrons, particularly local business people.
The disparity in wealth as it relates to a school district’s tax base must be taken into account.
For example, one mill in Galena raises $17,000, or $24 per student, while one mill in Burlington raises $450,000, or $550 per student.
We cannot, we should not leave the students of Galena behind.
Finally, a new formula must provide adequate and equitable funding so as to end the school finance litigation we have endured for entirely too long.
The voters of Kansas spoke in November. I believe they want change. But, that change will take time.
The damage done by the Brownback administration cannot be undone overnight.
It will take years to restore Kansas. But, let it be said that the steps to restoring our state began in the 2017 session of the Kansas Legislature.
A few weeks after Kansas joined the union, President Abraham Lincoln, on his way to his own inauguration, stopped in Philadelphia and standing at the flag pole in front of Independence Hall, hoisted up the new American flag with 34 stars.
As the flag went up, the large crowd of people cheered. Optimism surged as people flocked to the new state of Kansas already on a path of progress with plenty of opportunities.
It is my hope we will meet the challenges we face today in a spirit of inclusion and bi-partisanship, that we will move beyond Brownback to put our great state back on the path of progress and opportunity.
Thank you, and good night.