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2015 KS State of the State Speech Touches on Taxes, School Funding

File photo by Stephen Koranda

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has laid out some details of his legislative priorities in the 2015 State of the State address. Brownback touched on the state’s tax policy and education funding system during the speech, but gave few details about how he’ll propose filling a budget gap. KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports.

Brownback started by touting what he says are his accomplishments. He pointed to job growth seen in the state in recent years.

Kansas has passed major tax cuts aimed at growing the economy, but they’re also helping lead the state to budget deficits. Brownback says he’ll release a two-year budget that balances.

“With revenues exceeding expenditures each of those fiscal years. And, we will continue our march to zero income taxes,” says Brownback.

Lawmakers are facing hundreds of millions of dollars in budget shortfalls in the current and coming fiscal year.

Brownback’s continued support of the income tax cuts doesn’t rule out revenue increases in other areas. He continues to say that lowering income taxes will help the state economy.

“Getting our income taxes to zero represents our best opportunity for long-term growth,” says Brownback.

Brownback also hit on the largest item in the budget, K through 12 education funding, and that brought him his biggest standing ovation of the speech.

“Friends, it is time for a new school finance formula,” says Brownback.

Some Republicans have wanted to rewrite the funding formula for years, and Brownback echoed some of their concerns.

“For decades now, Kansas has struggled under a school finance formula which was designed not to be understood, to frustrate efforts at accountability and efficiency,” says Brownback.

Brownback even says the current formula should be repealed before a new one is ready. He says lawmakers should appropriate money directly to school districts while working to write a new formula.

“That formula should reflect real-world costs and put dollars in the classroom with real students, not in bureaucracy, buildings and gimmicks,” says Brownback

The governor repeated something he’s pushed for in the past, changing how state Supreme Court justices are selected.

He has proposed something similar to the federal model, where the governor would choose a nominee who would then need to be approved by the state Senate.

Or, he says justices should be directly elected.

“With the court involved with so many public policy issues, it’s time the selection process be more democratic,” says Brownback.

But the top Democrat in the Kansas House, Tom Burroughs from Kansas City, says Brownback’s plan would put more politics into judicial selection.

And Burroughs also doesn't agree with the governor’s call to rewrite the school funding formula.

"We've been in litigation over this formula because the governor hasn't funded this formula. This formula has worked, courts have verified that it works, it just needs to be funded and the governor has failed to fund the formula," says Burroughs.

Burroughs is waiting to see the specifics of Brownback’s budget, but he’s not convinced keeping the income tax cuts as they are is the right thing to do.

“We’ve seen what damage the failed experiment has caused our economy. We need to have a revenue stream to support those core services that he governor espoused this evening,” says Burroughs.

Lawmakers will get their first look at the specifics of the governor’s budget plan later today (FRI) when it’s unveiled before legislative committees.

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