Kan. gov. proposes cuts, economic initiatives

JOHN HANNA - AP Political Writer
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback delivers remarks to members of legislature and other elected officials during his State of the State address Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011, in Topeka, Kan.  (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
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Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback delivers remarks to members of legislature and other elected officials during his State of the State address Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011, in Topeka, Kan.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback declared an end Wednesday night to "the days of ever-expanding government," proposed a spending freeze, promised to eliminate state agencies and unfilled state jobs, and asked legislators to approve a business tax break to stimulate the economy.

Brownback said in his first State of the State address that he will submit executive orders in the next few days to reorganize state government. He promised to eliminate eight agencies, though he did not name them and his staff did not provide a list Wednesday evening.

He also said he'll seek an immediate freeze in spending as a step toward eliminating the $550 million gap between anticipated revenues and current spending commitments for the fiscal year that begins July 1. He said he will seek to eliminate more than 2,000 positions in state government that haven't been filled.

"The days of ever-expanding government are over — and under my administration, they will not return," the new Republican governor said, speaking to a joint session of the Legislature in the Kansas House chamber. "The future demands of us a commitment to deliver core services in innovative and more efficient ways, and we will do that."

Legislators, other state officials and interest groups were expected to learn more details about his budget Thursday morning, when his staff was scheduled to brief the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means committees.

Brownback said in his speech that the amount of state tax dollars set aside for public schools will increase under his budget for the next fiscal year. But he acknowledged afterward that he's not proposing to completely offset the loss of federal stimulus funds for public schools and that school districts' base state aid figure could drop from its current $4,012 per student.

"I can tell you this: The education community will not be happy with his budget proposal, and if it passes, literally thousands of teachers across the state will lose their jobs," Senate Vice President John Vratil, a Leawood Republican, said, without disclosing the details.

As expected, Brownback focused his address Wednesday evening mostly on economic and budget issues, as he did during his successful campaign last year. He proposed allowing businesses to deduct a greater share of their investments from their income taxes, proposing to offset that break by eliminating unspecified "corporate tax subsidies enjoyed by only a few."

But near the end of his speech, Brownback did allude to his strong opposition to abortion, one of his stances on social issues that gave him strong support among religious conservatives. Anti-abortion groups are eager this year to pass new restrictions on abortion, anticipating that Brownback will sign such legislation.

"I call on the Legislature to bring to my desk legislation that protects the unborn and establishes a culture of life in Kansas," he said, receiving sustained applause and a few cheers.

But Julie Burkhart, founder and director of a new abortion rights group, Trust Women, said Brownback is being hypocritical by calling for an end to expanding government, except "to dictate what women do with their own bodies."

"This continuing campaign against women is unacceptable and un-American," she said.

In a response to the address, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the state has been "clearly on the right path." He praised Brownback's predecessor, Democrat Mark Parkinson, who successfully pushed for a sales tax increase last year to avoid making deep cuts in aid to public schools and social services.

"As we continue on the path toward economic recovery, we must not let that legacy fade in our rearview mirror," Hensley said. "We must maintain our commitment to public education without making crippling cuts to local schools in our urban and rural communities."

Brownback previously has ruled out raising taxes to close the state's budget shortfall as likely to hurt any economic recovery. There's little chance higher taxes will be considered, after last year's elections made the Legislature more conservative, with GOP majorities of 32-8 in the Senate and 92-33 in the House.

"I've been waiting a long time for a governor like this who's going to take the bull by the horns, apparently, and do the types of things we need to do," said House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican.

The state is facing a budget shortfall despite last year's tax increase largely because it also has used federal economic stimulus funds to prop up aid to public schools and social services, and those funds are expected to disappear in the next fiscal year.

The loss in stimulus funds for public schools is $200 million. Brownback said after his address that not all of it will be made up, but he will work to give school districts more flexibility to tap cash reserves to tide them over.

And he acknowledged that the increase in state funds he proposes would largely cover rising costs associated with teacher pensions and districts' building projects.

"The interesting part about it — and this is kind of the sad part about it — the total budget goes up, even if the per-pupil goes down, which tells you you're not getting as much to the classroom. You're getting more that's going to fund the buildings and the teacher retirement," Brownback told The Associated Press in a short interview. "We're pointing it out to people: This is where we're trending."

Business leaders had expected before the speech to be pleased by much of what they heard, and the proposed business tax break immediately received the support of the National Federation of Independent Business. Dan Murray, the group's state director, said the proposal would be "a huge benefit."


Associated Press Writer John Milburn also contributed to this report.