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Brownback Outlines Priorities During Kansas State Of The State Speech

Stephen Koranda

Gov. Sam Brownback laid out his legislative goals during the 2016 State of the State address Tuesday night. He took the president to task and touched on high-profile state issues like education spending. KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports on some of the governor’s priorities and what he left out of the speech.

Brownback laid the groundwork in his speech by referencing what he and lawmakers had done in Kansas in recent years. He touted tax policy, the unemployment rate and job growth.

“Kansans are finding good jobs right here at home. Working together, we’ve created an economic environment where new filings for new businesses have increased by 15 percent,” Brownback said.

Brownback brought up a top-shelf issue this year: writing a new school funding formula. He blasted the old formula that lawmakers tossed out.

“Of the more than $4 billion the state puts into education funding, not nearly enough goes towards instruction. That’s highly inefficient, if not immoral,” Brownback said.

Some lawmakers would disagree, saying there are lots of important school functions not being counted as classroom spending. The governor urged lawmakers to get the job done writing a new formula and gave them some specifics he wants to see.

“I call on the Legislature design a new education funding system that puts more of our money into instruction, that provides bonuses for exceptional teachers and recognizes they’re true value to our future and the souls of our students,” Brownback said.

The governor took a swipe at Planned Parenthood and said he’d block any Medicaid funding from going to the organization.

“In 2011, I signed legislation stopping most taxpayer funding from going to Planned Parenthood. The time has come to finish the job. Planned Parenthood’s trafficking of baby body parts is antithetical to our belief in human dignity,” Brownback said.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri has said they don’t take part in any tissue donation programs. Elise Higgins, with Planned Parenthood, said Medicaid dollars support health care services, not abortions.

“Life-saving preventive health care. They’re getting pap tests, cervical cancer screenings, breast exams, birth control and STD testing and treatment,” Higgins said.

There’s been a push to expand Medicaid in Kansas, but Brownback offered his own push against the plan. Supporters of expansion have argued it will help rural hospitals. Brownback said he’d create a task force to look for alternate ways to help those hospitals.

“Obamacare has increased health care costs and especially hurt rural health care. It was Obamacare that cut Medicare reimbursements to rural hospitals. It was Obamacare that caused the problem, we should not expand Obamacare to solve the problem,” Brownback said.

The governor also blasted the president on his proposal to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and his handling of refugees. Some people thought Brownback talked a little too much about the president.

“He spent a lot of time worrying about President Obama. President Obama can take care of himself, he was elected twice,” said Democratic state Rep. Barbara Ballard.

She pointed out that the speech was completely devoid of talk about the state’s budget deficit, which could approach $200 million next year.

“We heard a lot, but not about the state of Kansas and the needs we have and the revenue we do not have,” Ballard said.

Republican state Sen. Jeff Melcher said it’s not a big deal that the governor did not bring up the budget deficit.

“There’s a lot of talk about the budget shortfall, but when you look at it compared to the overall total of the budget, it’s just not a huge number. We’re going to be able to deal with that,” Melcher said.

Lawmakers will learn the specifics of the governor’s budget on Wednesday, when Brownback’s budget director unveils the details of the spending plan.

You can hear the full State of the State address here.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Radio covering health, education and politics.