I’m Anthony Hensley, Democratic Leader of the Kansas Senate, and this is the response to Governor Brownback’s 2015 State of the State message.
I have served in the Kansas Legislature for nearly four decades. I’ve seen a lot in that time, but nothing compares to what I’ve seen Governor Brownback and his allies do to our state over the past four years.
And, I’m deeply concerned about what they will do over the next four years.
We’ve just heard the Governor’s take on the state of our state, but, unfortunately, how can Kansans believe it when he has deliberately and repeatedly misled us?
Especially now that the news media has reported a federal grand jury is investigating loans made to the Brownback re-election campaign, including those made by Lt. Governor Colyer. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, the people of Kansas deserve to know the truth.
So, I’m here tonight to give you the real – and frankly somber – state of our state.
While many regions of our nation are making steady progress, the state of our state is bad.
In three years, from 2007 to 2009, the loss of revenue to Kansas was $600 million, due to the greatest national economic downturn since the Great Depression.
But, last year alone our state’s revenue dropped by $700 million, due to Sam Brownback’s irresponsible and reckless economic experiment.
This loss of revenue resulted in our state’s credit rating being downgraded twice by two different credit rating agencies.
Not exactly a “shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy” the Governor promised.
The nation as a whole has seen record private-sector job growth, but Kansas continues to lag behind. Colorado, Nebraska, and Oklahoma all reached pre-recession job levels more than a year before Kansas.
In Kansas City, the Missouri side has seen four times the job growth than the Kansas side.
And, just last week economists predicted the nation would continue to see rapid, record growth while Kansas would remain stagnant.
Yet, the Governor claims the state can create 100,000 new jobs over the next four years, when in November we lost 4,100 private-sector jobs.
We need jobs. Good paying, quality jobs. But, the Governor and his allies have not – and cannot – provide them if we stay on our current path.
Because what business wants to bring jobs to a state that doesn’t value investing in education, infrastructure, and its working families?
Instead, Sam Brownback and his allies pushed for income tax cuts that benefited their political supporters – not most middle class families.
They turned a billion dollar surplus into a projected billion dollar shortfall, resulting in a significant increase in the burden placed on the shoulders of average, hardworking Kansans.
Newspapers across the state – and many across the nation – were filled with headlines that warned of the consequences of this self-imposed budget crisis – a crisis created by the Governor and every member of the Legislature who voted for what he calls his “real live experiment.”
Yet, throughout the past year, Sam Brownback claimed that our state is doing fine, or as he put it, “The sun is shining in Kansas.”
He claimed, “We’re in great shape financially. I know there are a number of people yelling differently, but the numbers just don’t support what they’re saying. They’re just trying to paint a ‘Chicken Little the sky is falling’ situation, which is not true. It’s a bunch of lies.”
Well, it turns out the only person not telling the truth was Sam Brownback. He has deceived Kansans time and time again. And, as far as chicken analogies go, the chickens have come home to roost.
Less than one week after the election, our state’s economic and tax experts announced a budget shortfall of $280 million in the current fiscal year.
When asked about this, the Governor said he didn’t know before the election that there would be a shortfall. Well, Governor, that’s an insult to our intelligence.
And now, after he depletes the state’s reserve fund to balance the budget for the current fiscal year, we still face the Brownback budget crisis – a revenue shortfall of $1.4 billion over the next two years.
The Governor has expressed little concern over this crisis and has indicated that state government simply needs to do what average Kansas families and businesses do every day – live within its means.
The problem with this analogy is that no Kansas family or business would voluntarily cut off a source of their income, drain their savings account, rob their retirement funds, and still expect to have a financially secure future.
If Sam Brownback ran a business the way he’s been running the State of Kansas for the last four years, the business would have been forced to close its doors months ago. Obviously, closing the doors on the State of Kansas is not an option.
The campaign is over. It’s time for Governor Brownback to stop blaming others and admit his economic experiment is a failure. He needs to end his experiment and fix the budget crisis he created. And, he needs to do it now.
At the same time, Governor Brownback needs to recognize what’s happened to Kansans on his watch.
Take for example the single mother who works full time and lives within her means, but still struggles to provide for her family.
She paid $4,000 more in income taxes due to the Governor’s plan, while her accountant got a tax break of more than $10,000 and will no longer pay any state income tax.
Or, there’s the grandmother with diabetes who lives on a fixed income. She lost her homestead property tax refund for renters and food sales tax rebate because the Governor had to find revenue to pay for his income tax cuts.
To some, the difference of a few hundred dollars a year isn’t that big of a deal, but to her it means paying for her prescription medication.
Or there’s the 150,000 Kansans who have been denied health care coverage and the dozens of rural hospitals at risk of closing their doors because the Governor refuses to expand Medicaid.
Or the high school student with a solid academic performance who has already been accepted to college. He heard the Governor promise to restore the cuts to higher education.
But, the cuts weren’t restored. And now, as tuition and fees increase next year, the student fears he won’t be able to afford to go to college at all.
Or the third grader who gets up an hour earlier than her classmates to catch the bus that stops to pick her up at the homeless shelter.
The number of homeless children attending Kansas schools has tripled since the Great Recession.
Child poverty has increased every year since the Governor took office, and for the first time, one-half of all Kansas school children qualify for free or reduced lunch. For many, their only meals of the day come from their school cafeteria.
This is not the Kansas we want for our children and grandchildren. This doesn’t represent our true Kansas values.
Nearly 50 years ago, the voters of Kansas made it very clear how much they value education. They overwhelmingly approved the provision in our state’s constitution that requires the suitable financing of our public schools.
But, when Governor Brownback and his supporters approved the single largest cut to public school funding in state history, they not only violated the trust of the people, they violated their constitutional duty.
This cut has threatened the quality of education Kansas children receive all across our state. Class sizes increased. Schools closed. Teachers were laid off. Test scores dropped.
Yet, the Governor touted ‘record school funding’ and said, “Our goal is to ensure Kansas schools remain strong and produce students who are prepared for college and careers.”
Unfortunately, his actions do not support his rhetoric.
And, just two weeks ago, a three-judge panel ruled that the current level of school funding is inadequate and unconstitutional.
This ruling came as no surprise to many of us in the Legislature or those who work every day in our public schools.
In response to the ruling the Governor said we need to restructure the school finance formula. To me, that’s another way of saying, “Let’s pass the buck to local school boards and taxpayers to pay more for their schools.”
Many of us in the Legislature and most Kansans understand that strong public schools are the very foundation of a strong economy.
We remain committed to ensuring all Kansas children – regardless of where they live or how much money their parents make – receive the first class education they deserve.
The Kansas Legislature faces one of the most serious and significant situations the state has seen in a long time, if ever.
It is imperative for the Governor and the Legislature to find a real solution that embraces our shared Kansas values.
A real solution is not to once again raid the state’s highway fund and put thousands of good paying jobs in jeopardy.
Studies have shown our current transportation plan will create 175,000 jobs, which is far more certain than the number of jobs that might be created by the Brownback tax cuts.
A real solution is not the Governor’s action to renege on a bipartisan plan to make our state retirement system more solvent – a plan he bragged about in his re-election campaign.
A real solution to this self-inflicted problem is not to raid and cut important state investments which have yet to recover from the Great Recession.
A real solution is to fix the source of the problem – Governor Brownback’s failed economic experiment.
Most Kansans want us to be fiscally responsible and protect our state’s investment in what matters most. They want us to make sure everyone pays their fair share.
And, they believe our state will prosper when we invest in the people of Kansas.
Most Kansans strongly support public schools and public school teachers. They understand how strong schools produce our future workforce and, in turn, a thriving economy.
And, they want us to restore the cuts to K-12 and higher education.
Most Kansans want us to work in a bipartisan and productive manner that moves our state forward to create a better future that represents our shared Kansas values.
I’ve lived in Kansas all my life. My wife and I raised our daughter here. And now she and her husband are raising our two granddaughters here. They deserve better than the current path our state is on.
All Kansans deserve a future of opportunity. A future in which they go to a good public school and spend their days focused on learning and preparing for college or work.
A future where businesses have access to the educated and skilled workers they need to grow. And, a future in which every employable Kansan can find a quality job that allows them to support their family.
If this is the kind of future we want to provide for our children and grandchildren – and I truly believe it is – then the Governor and Legislature of this great state must change course.
Thank you and goodnight.