And it's not just Brownback's tax cuts that are hurting Kansas:If you’re looking for an American conservative governing in the most conservative way possible, Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has to be at the top of the list. Rolling back gun control measures? Check. New abortion restrictions? Major check.
But the centerpiece of Brownback's first term has been a package of sweeping tax cuts, signed into law in 2012, that he said would “be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” In an interview on the Fox News Channel this month, Brownback claimed that everything is working out as planned, saying, “It’s worked excellent." And he’s coming back for even more, consistently saying that he wants to drive his state’s income tax rate down to zero, nothing, zip.
But has everything worked out as "excellent" as Brownback claims? According to a report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities today, Kansas’ economy is decidedly middling, and in terms of job creation and income growth is actually doing worse than the national average. From the report:
Although the tax cuts were intended to spark job creation, Kansas’ job growth has been far from spectacular, lagging modestly behind the national average since the tax cuts first took effect. That’s very similar to what happened in 2012, the year before the tax cuts took effect. …
On average, Kansans earned about $4.43 less per week (after adjusting for inflation) in December 2013 than in December 2012, the month before the tax cuts took effect. That’s a slightly larger decline than what happened with earnings nationally over the same period. Kansans were earning about 10 percent less than their counterparts nationally before the tax cuts, and they didn’t make up any ground over the last year. In contrast, earnings grew somewhat more quickly in Kansas than the U.S. in 2012, the year before the tax cuts took effect.
Meanwhile, Kansas' education and social service funding has taken a big hit. According to the report, per-pupil general school funding is still 17 percent below pre-recession levels, while "funding for other services – colleges and universities, libraries, and local health departments, among others – also is way down and declining."
This is, of course, just one year of data. But if it's any indication of what an economic shot of adrenaline looks like, perhaps Kansas should go in search of different remedies. - U.S. News, 3/27/14
Not to mention this is also a big issue in this race:Gov. Sam Brownback is content to leave a lid on political consideration during the 2014 session of expanding Medicaid.
His likely opponent in the November general election, Democratic Rep. Paul Davis, is just as keen to press for open dialogue on delivery of Medicaid to more low-income Kansans who are struggling to afford health insurance. Republican leaders in the House and Senate have, so far, cooperated with Brownback to stifle conversation about Kansas accepting an enlarged Medicaid footprint. A bill to provide for expansion was introduced by a House Democrat, but it hasn't received a committee hearing.
Brownback remains skeptical the federal government would abide by financial pledges to cover at least 90 percent of each state's cost increase tied to eligibility shifts in Medicaid. He said his central objective was service to Kansans with physical and developmental needs enrolled in Medicaid, which the governor renamed KanCare, before moving to add able-bodied adults to the roll.
"My first priority is to extend KanCare to those who need it most — Kansans with disabilities on waiting lists for services," he said.
Davis said hundreds of millions of dollars annually in federal Medicaid aid rejected by Brownback could improve health outcomes for Kansans and provide a financial boost to hospitals, especially facilities struggling to stay open in rural areas. Hospitals are required to accept shrinking Medicare reimbursements, but growth in Medicaid enrollment and spending was to balance that revenue loss.
"Our taxpayer dollars are just going to other states," Davis said. "We need to do this. It's the right thing to do."
Davis said broadening access to Medicaid could reach 80,000 uninsured Kansans ineligible for federal subsidies — and also ineligible for Medicaid under existing rules applicable in Kansas — to buy private health plans through the insurance marketplace formed under the Affordable Care Act. - The Topkea Capital-Journal, 3/23/14
Brownback's agenda has caused a riff in the Kansas Republican Party:The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled the Legislature is to find $129 million this year to begin adequately funding public education.
So what did the Democrats in the House do? Under the leadership of Rep. Paul Davis, they presented a solution that would restore the $129 million and provide property tax relief.
The Republicans, under the leadership of Rep. Marc Rhoades, presented a bill the would restore the $129 million with anti-public education proposals attached.
Rhoades proposed giving tuition tax credits to corporations that would result in a $10 million loss in tax revenue, allow charter schools to receive public education funds but no regulations or rules, expand “innovative schools,” eliminate teacher licensure requirements for science and math, and allow school principals to give bonuses to whomever they want.
This is an agenda item of ALEC and its plan to destroy public education and create an environment of private schools.
We are already struggling to adequately fund public education while Rhoades is proposing more cuts. - The Topeka Capital-Journal, 3/30/14
And Brownback's fixaton on social issues are also hurting him:But revolutions come with risks, not least because change comes so fast. Single-party control got things done here, but it also ignited an intraparty struggle, as the governor learned last year when some of his allies resisted the higher sales tax rate he requested to balance the state’s books. And while many Kansans remain in Mr. Brownback’s corner, moderate Republicans and Democrats are loudly expressing their anger. With Mr. Brownback facing re-election, voters will be assessing a mixed scorecard of achievement.
The Kansas economy is growing, but like the nation’s, it remains sluggish. Elementary school students are testing well, yet the achievement level of black pupils is slipping. And while income taxes have been slashed, the poorest Kansans have seen their tax burdens increase with the elimination of tax credits. As a result, this year’s campaign for governor is shaping up to be more competitive than the one in 2010, when Mr. Brownback was swept into office with 63 percent of the vote.
Paul Davis, a Democrat and the House minority leader, who is challenging Mr. Brownback, is hoping to ride a wave of discontent by focusing on education. Mr. Brownback has been heavily criticized for enacting huge tax cuts at a time when schools are not funded at the constitutionally mandated level. Advocates of increased school funding have sued, and the case is now before the state Supreme Court. But the governor and the Legislature have vowed to ignore any ruling that requires them to increase spending to a specific amount, asserting that elected lawmakers, not judges, should make those decisions.
“He has really set things up on an ideologically based model designed for his own political reasons, to try to gain him a good deal of attention nationally,” Mr. Davis said of the governor. “I don’t think people have reacted very well to that.”
Some of the most heated criticism has come from fellow Republicans — those with more centrist views who say he abandoned them when they faced primary challengers two years ago. A handful of senators lost their seats, including the former Senate president.
While Mr. Brownback’s supporters say he is more of a mediator than an imperial presence, opponents say he declines ideas that deviate from his ideology.
Even as his bullishly conservative agenda has unsettled the state’s political equilibrium, Mr. Brownback maintains the gregarious, faith-driven manner that has defined him since his days as a United States senator, long-shot presidential candidate and hero of the country’s Christian right. - New York Times, 2/13/14
And Brownback's extreme agenda could cost him his re-election bid at the polls:Consider what’s happened so far:
• Sonograms conducted on two pregnant women in a statehouse committee room.
• A bill critics said would have allowed discrimination against same-sex couples based on religious grounds.
• Legislation introduced to make getting a divorce more difficult.
There was a bill outlawing surrogate pregnancy for pay, another requiring that the public be told that fluoride diminishes brain power and legislation blocking any federal attempt to protect an endangered bird on the prairie.
The headline-grabbing bills — many of which likely won’t pass — didn’t come from the governor’s office.
But political analysts say they could complicate Brownback’s bid for a second term against his likely Democratic challenger, state Rep. Paul Davis.
The bills draw attention to Brownback’s social conservatism, sometimes on issues that don’t play well in the polls. Meanwhile, the bills detract from his signature achievement: Sweeping tax cuts.
The combination threatens the GOP incumbent with a return to the dynamics of the near past, when moderate Republicans aligned with the state’s Democratic minority.
“What could be dangerous for Brownback is that he’s associated with some of this legislation,” said Washburn University political scientist Bob Beatty. “It’s an open question whether he can distance himself from this even if he didn’t have anything to do with it.” - The Kansas City Star, 3/1/14
So it's no wonder Democrats smell blood in the water:The Republican Party has controlled Kansas's legislature for a generation, but for a long time a moderate faction held off the most conservative bills. That changed in 2012, with the assiduous (and pricey) efforts to oust moderates in primaries. One-third of the Senate GOP caucus went down after the Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity battered them on the air. In 2013, Gov. Sam Brownback had the votes to dramatically slash income tax rates, while keeping sales taxes above 6 percent.
How's it working? Well, unusually for a governor who's returning money to taxpayers, Brownback has become terribly unpopular. In the last year, Public Policy Polling found his approval rating sinking from 37 percent to 33 percent. As of last month he trailed Democrat Paul Davis in his 2014 re-election bid. Brownback might have recovered since then, but the major legislation voters became aware of was the pioneering "religious freedom" bill that codified the right to deny service to gays. - Slate, 3/31/14
So it's no wonder Brownback's already running scared:House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, is getting fundraising help from a national Democratic group that says his bid to unseat Gov. Sam Brownback has unexpectedly put Kansas in play.
In an email to supporters, Democratic Governors Association's digital director Mark Giangreco pointed to a recent poll by Public Policy Polling that showed Davis with a 42 percent to 40 percent edge. He suggested the result was surprising even to members of Davis' own party, who hold less than 25 percent of legislative seats and none of the statewide or congressional offices.
"No need to clean your glasses, adjust the view on your screen or pinch yourself," the email states. "You read it right: We’re up in Kansas."
Haley Pollock, a spokeswoman for the Davis campaign, said the poll shows support for Davis beyond the Democratic party.
"Paul is bringing together moderate Kansans who want strong schools, a strong middle class, good jobs, and a growing economy," Pollock said.
David Kensinger, a spokesman for Brownback's campaign, said there are two ways to run for office: "unopposed and as hard as you can."
"We have never been unopposed," Kensinger said. "Having said that, the involvement of Barack Obama's committee clearly shows who Paul Davis seeks to represent — the liberal bosses in Washington."
Dakota Loomis, a spokesman for the Kansas Democratic Party, called Kensinger's statement "divorced from reality."
"The DGA has literally nothing to do with Obama — or any federal Democrats for that matter," Loomis said. "The whole point of the DGA is to have a separate group that can focus on state politics without interference from federal, D.C. folks who often don't give two licks about state races.” - The Topkea Capital-Journal, 2/28/14
And Brownback is also trying to purge moderates from his own party:A group supporting Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback launched a television ad Tuesday noting the state's relatively low unemployment rate and touting the Republican incumbent for having a plan to invest in education.
The 30-second spot from Road Map Solutions isn't formally an ad for Brownback's re-election this year because the group is separate from his campaign and the ad doesn't ask viewers to vote for the governor. But it portrays Brownback positively as it discusses the economy and education — areas where he's been aggressively criticized by Democratic challenger Paul Davis, the state House minority leader.
Road Map Solutions, a nonprofit group, formed in December 2011 with the treasurer of Brownback's successful 2010 campaign for governor as the new group's resident agent. The group takes its name from the "Road Map for Kansas" platform from Brownback's last campaign, and its president is David Kensinger, who managed that campaign and later served as Brownback's chief of staff.
Kensinger said the group plans to run the TV spot at least several hundred times over at least 10 days, spending at least $82,000. The ad is running on broadcast and cable stations in Topeka and Wichita.
The spot says the state is growing, "and that means real opportunity to invest in our schools and our people."
Kansas had the 10th lowest unemployment rate of any state in both December and January, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Brownback has proposed phasing in full state funding for all-day kindergarten programs.
"Why would anyone be terrified about people hearing the facts?" Kensinger said. "These are bulletproof, air-tight facts."
But Davis spokesman Chris Pumpelly said the ad is an attempt by Brownback's allies to distort his record.
Davis has been critical of massive personal income tax cuts enacted at Brownback's urging, arguing that they haven't stimulated the economy as promised and have prevented the state from restoring past, recession-driven cuts in aid to public schools. Davis also contends the tax cuts will prevent the state from adequately funding schools in the future.
"Kansas is in a mess that the governor created," Pumpelly said. - AP, 3/18/14
But despite all of this, we have an excellent shot at winning this race. Lets make sure Paul Davis is ready to take on Brownback by getting involved and donating to his campaign:Let’s see, it’s June, the weather is nice, the kids are out of school and you have read enough about candidates in Kansas that you decide to switch parties so you can vote for (or actually against) a candidate you like (or don’t).
Enjoy that month of June decision-making, because it’s your last one.
That’s the new law.
Republicans, who like their primary elections to be just among themselves, passed and Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law this session a bill that prohibits change of party affiliation — but not first-time party affiliation as a new voter — after the candidate filing deadline. Previously, party affiliation could be changed about a couple weeks before the August primary.
The new bill doesn’t become effective until July 1, and the candidate filing deadline this year is June 1, so you have a month to consider whether you want to dabble in the other party’s primary election.
For the 2016 elections, you’ll have to decide which primary election you want to vote in before you know for sure who’s running.
If you’re a Democrat—and there aren’t many Democratic primary election jousts in Kansas—you might well decide that you’d rather have your local representative or senator as moderate as they come, and register Republican to tilt the vote toward the moderate. If it works, the Democratic candidate runs against a moderate Republican, and the damage to your psyche on election night isn’t as great as it might have been.
That happened in 2012, when enough Democrats changed party affiliation in at least one Senate race—moderate Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, vs. conservative Rep. Joe Patton, R-Topeka—to make Schmidt the winner of a close Senate primary race. The Democrat in the race? Terry Crowder, a solid Democrat in a highly Republican district. He lost, but for most purposes Democrats preferred Schmidt to Patton.
Republicans might also switch party lines to vote in Democratic primaries, but there aren’t many of them, and culturally…well, it’s difficult for Republicans to make even that brief party switch. - Hays Post, 3/31/14