Governor Sam Brownback encourages the crowd at the finish line of the International Pancake Race March 4 to support the local runners. Brownback is seeking re-election as the state’s governor and shared some of the accomplishments of his first term. L&T photo/Earl Watt
By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
Polls indicate that Gov. Sam Brownback is facing a stiff challenge from Paul Davis, but if the governor’s record becomes a focus, it will be hard to argue with the results.
During Brownback’s first term, he has lowered income taxes, created a surplus and has invested more money four straight years in K-12 education.
Brownback, considered one of the most conservative governors in the nation, has also shown his ability to work on issues that have been considered out of the Republican mainstream, including his focus on all-day Kindergarten.
“Most of the studies show that investing early in a child’s education is key, it is important,” Brownback said. “It seems odd to me to we pay all day on 1-12 and half a day on K(indergarten) when all the research says your best investment is early. We do pretty well on national scores on fourth grade reading, but not too well with our at-risk students. I think this will help disproportionately our at-risk students as well.”
Brownback said the targeted approach to funding a specific need is the way to help students enhance their ability to read.
“We need to get kids to be able to read, and we have too many of them that can’t read,” he said. “This is part of the investment to do that. Plus, I’ve increased funding for K-12 every year I’ve ben in office.
“Part of what we are trying to do here is target this funding. We’ve targeted technical education and we’ve had huge growth in that. Now we want to target on early education.”
While Brownback believes government can try to do too much, education is one of the responsibilities of all states and conservatives.
“One of the principals of conservatism is you do your basic functions well,” he said. “You do your functions that government is responsible for. At the federal level, national defense is a key piece of it — to provide for the common defense. At the state level it is education. And I have put more money in K-12. It is a core function of government. We spend 60-plus percent of the state budget on education. About 51 percent is K-12, the rest in higher ed. It is a core function, we need to do it well, and here is a piece we’re missing.”
That’s why, as a conservative, Brownback has made a solid commitment to funding education.
“To me, that is what conservatism is about,” he said. “Do things efficient and effectively and do basic functions better.”
Brownback has been concerned about the expansion of government and started the Office of the Repealer to ensure that any public office is necessary and performing well.
“You should ask about the spread of government,” Brownback said. “‘Should we be in that?’ But if it is a core function — we also need good roads, that’s a core function. And we put money in roads.”
Brownback did not support requiring Kindergarten, but he said the districts that offer it have had positive results.
“Most districts that implemented it quickly decided, ‘This is a good thing for my child, I’m going to leave them in all-day Kindergarten,’” he said.
While increasing funding to schools, Brownback has also seen state revenues rise to historic levels even though he cut income taxes. His opponents predicted that the move would leave large holes in state funding. So far, the opposite has been the result.
“We had record revenues last year,” Brownback said. “We’ve never had more money come in to the State of Kansas, and that is with a half-year of the tax cuts in place. We had some of the highest receipts in the past month.”
Cutting taxes to increase revenues is not a new idea. Ronald Reagan did it in the 1980s, and the economy boomed. Brownback is looking for the same to take place in Kansas.
“If you cut taxes right to stimulate growth, you will have more revenue,” he said. “John Kennedy even said that, he said our expenses are too high and our revenue is too low. I remember holding a hearing in the Senate on former Soviet nations. They started with 60 to 70 percent tax rates, and no one was paying. They dropped back to a flat tax of 15 to 20 percent, and revenues went up. People thought it was fair. Prior to that they tried to hide it. This is a principle that has been tried many places around he world and it works. Our tax rate was too high, and we were losing people. Now we are getting in-migration, we’re growing.
To continue the trend, Brownback said his future focus is to work on poverty programs.
“Our poverty programs have not worked,” he said. “We spent $20 trillion as a nation since LBJ’s Great Society, and poverty is the same. We need to reframe where you help people get out of poverty, not how many you have in poverty, but how many you get out.”
How the state treats mental health is also a focus for Brownback.
“Our mental health system needs adjustment and integrated,” Brownback said. “Much of our mental health occupancy is in our prison system, and that’s not the right place for it.”
Much of the news coverage around Topeka has focused on those criticizing Brownback’s tax plan, quoting those who have said that reducing taxes will cut state revenues.
With the state reaching record revenue levels, and with state commitments to education expanding, the governor’s race could see a widening in the polls once the data is shared statewide.