by Murrel Bland
Lower taxes. Less regulation. More business growth.
That was the message that Gov. Sam Brownback brought to the Congressional Forum Friday, July 18, at the Reardon Convention Center. The Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce sponsors the forum.
The speech was not billed as a campaign stop. However, all of the about 150 persons who attended the event were well aware that Brownback is in a fight for this political life as he seek a second four-year term. He will face Jennifer Winn of Haysville, a small town near Wichita, in the Primary Election Tuesday, Aug. 5.
The only Democrat candidate for governor is Paul Davis of Lawrence, a member of the Kansas House of Representatives and a lawyer from Lawrence. The general election will be Tuesday, Nov. 4.
Brownback was quick to say that during his tenure as governor, Kansas increased its private sector jobs by 55,000—the highest that it has been in the history of Kansas. At the same time, Brownback said state public sector jobs in Kansas have been cut by 3,000.
The governor said the state is in much better fiscal shape than when he took office. He said just before he took office, the state general fund had a balance of only $876.09; in fiscal year 2013, that fund balance was about $500 million.
A hallmark of Brownback’s administration is a sweeping income tax reduction—something that Brownback says will stimulate the state’s economy. He said that something dramatic has to be done to stop the decline in the state’s population. In 1960, Kansas ranked 29th among the 50 states in population. In 2010, that ranking was 33rd. And, projections are that in 2030, Kansas will drop to 35th.
Brownback’s critics, including some very prominent moderate Republicans, says that the state has always had a strong fiscal policy with a balance among three main tax sources—property, sales and income. These same critics say lower the income tax, particularly for the wealthy, is not a good policy. Brownback counters by saying lower income tax will attract those who will go into business for themselves. Several of these moderate Republicans have endorsed Davis. Political observers point out that there is a very serious split in the Republican Party with moderates supping Davis and the Tea party crowd backing Brownback.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that tax collections fells by $685 million during the first 11 months of this Brownback fiscal policy. Moody’s Investor Service recently downgraded the state’s debt rating.
Brownback blames the Obama administration and its excessive regulation for the lower state collections. He cited the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules that are forcing electric utilities to charge more.
Brownback says that the nine states with no income tax are the ones that have seen more economic growth. These include states such as Texas, Florida Wyoming and Alaska. However, his critics say that it is important to look at these states more closely. Most of them collect substantial tax revenue from mineral and oil production or tourism or both.
One of Brownback’s program to boost rural counties that have lost population is to waive income tax for college graduates who would move to the area and also help them pay their student loans. He said he hopes to create a similar program for urban areas such as Kansas City, Kan.
A person in the audience asked Brownback if he still had any plans to run for president.
“I just want to get re-elected governor,” he said.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.