Brownback proposes two-year budget, tax cuts, government reform and reading initiative
Topeka – Kansas Governor Sam Brownback delivered his third State of the State address Tuesday night to the citizens of Kansas and the Kansas Legislature. The Governor began the evening by recognizing the state’s first female President of the Kansas Senate.
“Kansas Governors have appeared more than 130 times to discuss the state of our state. I am honored to be the first Governor to say, ’Welcome, Madam President’,” Gov. Brownback said. “Mr. Speaker, Madam President, the state of our state is strong and blessed and leading America in several key arenas.”
Governor Brownback spoke about how when our country seems adrift, Kansas leads to the stars through difficulty.
“In an era when many believe America has lost its way, Kansans know the difficult path that the Nation must take. It is the well-worn sod tracks of hard work, thrift, patience, perseverance, faith, sacrifice and family that will get us where we want our country to be,” Brownback said. “And as has been our tradition since before statehood, our place, Kansas, will not be timid in doing what is right, even if much of the Nation takes another way.”
Brownback reminded legislators about how far they had turned around the state’s financial situation in the last two years, going from a projected $500 million deficit to a $500 million ending balance, and how far they still have to go so employment in the state can expand and families can prosper.
“Last year the Kansas Legislature passed the largest tax cut in state history. Tonight we are here to take another step on our path to no state income tax. This will create jobs and opportunities in our state that the current generation has left for Texas or Florida to find,” Brownback said. “By making government more efficient and growing our economy, we can keep the sales tax flat at its current level and cut income taxes on our lower income working families to 1.9 percent and drop the top rate to 3.5 percent. This glide path to zero will not cut funding for schools, higher education or essential safety net programs.”
Like families who must budget, the governor said Kansas also must prioritize its budget.
“Fiscal discipline has seemingly become a lost art in government. I am submitting to this Legislature a full two-year budget recommendation, with substantial focus on efficiency and effectiveness,” the governor said.
Governor Brownback will release his Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015 budgets on Wednesday. During his speech, he highlighted several areas of his two-year budget proposal.
“It protects base aid and increases total state funding for K-12 schools. It maintains stable funding for higher education,” Brownback said. “This two-year budget provides essential services for our most needy Kansans. It fully funds our state’s infrastructure investments through T-WORKS.”
The governor’s budget also provides funding to educate 50 additional medical doctors every year at a new, state-of-the-art medical training building at the University Of Kansas Medical Center as well as funding for a new crime lab and training facility for our state’s law enforcement on the campus of Washburn University.
The Governor also encouraged state lawmakers to merge the Kansas Turnpike Authority with the Kansas Department of Transportation.
“It is time that we realize the efficiencies to be gained by placing these two operations under the same umbrella. We don’t need two highway departments in Kansas. One is enough,” Brownback told lawmakers.
The Governor asked lawmakers to make clear in state law that it is the legislative branch that is authorized to appropriate public money.
“The “power of the purse” is the primary power of the Legislature, not the Executive or the Judiciary,” Brownback said. “And so I ask you to make it clear in law that defining what is “suitable provision” for public funding of education is a job for the people’s elected representatives – and no one else.”
When addressing judicial selection, the governor reminded lawmakers Kansans expect and are entitled to a government that is not beholden to any special interest group.
“Rather than giving an equal voice to all Kansans in the selection of our judges, Kansas is the only state that allows a special interest group to control the process of choosing who will be our appellate judges. That is not as it should be. Here, the people rule,”
Brownback said. “Now I didn’t realize this but Kansas use to elect our state Supreme Court. I would be supportive of returning to that system or going to the federal model of judicial selection. Either passes the democracy test that the current system fails.”
The governor also announced his Kansas Reads to Succeed initiative to achieve his goal of increasing the number of fourth graders reading at grade level. The initiative will provide $12 million to support innovative programs to help struggling readers and incentives to elementary schools that most successfully increase fourth grading reading scores.
“I also want third grade students to demonstrate an ability to read before being promoted to the fourth grade. Passing children up the grade ladder when we know they can’t read is irresponsible – and cruel. We will do better,” Brownback said.
Currently, 29 percent of Kansas fourth graders cannot read at a basic level.
In his parting words, the governor hoped lawmakers would value the relationships they made while serving, seek mentors for guidance and focus on serving their constituents, not trying to win every legislative argument.