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00000179-cdc6-d978-adfd-cfc6d7d40002Coverage of the issues, races and people shaping Kansas elections in 2016, including statewide coverage in partnership with KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, and High Plains Public Radio.

Brownback Holds Fast To Tax Policies, Despite Primary Losses

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Jim McLean
/
Heartland Health Monitor
Gov. Sam Brownback speaks to reporters during a rare informal conversation at the Statehouse last week.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is sticking to his talking points. In a rare informal conversation with Statehouse reporters late last week, Brownback said the results of the recent primary election aren’t causing him to re-think his positions on tax cuts, school finance and Medicaid expansion.

The governor hosted a small group of reporters over coffee and donuts in his inner office. Normally, he meets with the media in a ceremonial room just inside the public entrance to the suite of offices that he occupies with his staff.

Once coffee was served, the conversation turned quickly to whether primary voters had sent a message to Brownback. He said the results of this month's primaries show voter frustration not with the tax cuts he has pushed through as governor, but with the state budget and K-12 funding.

"Those are the things I'm hearing the most about. There has been very little coverage of positive sides of business growth in the state," he said.

Brownback says the income tax cuts have been a boon to small business owners, particularly in the Kansas City metro area. He says the state’s low unemployment rate is the reason they haven’t produced the jobs he promised.

The governor continues to reject what appears to reject the notion that his tax cuts are responsible for the state’s chronic budget problems. Repeated revenue shortfalls that have forced cuts in Medicaid, higher education, highways and children’s programs.

Brownback says downturns in mainstays of the Kansas economy – agriculture, oil and gas and the aircraft industry – are responsible for the budget problems, not his tax cuts.

“We had contraction in the Kansas economy and I think everybody’s been frustrated by that," he said. "I certainly have been.”

Even so, many of the conservative lawmakers who helped Brownback pass those tax cuts won’t be back. Several retired rather than face the voters. But others were defeated by more moderate Republicans who pledged to stop the bleeding and restore stability to the state budget.

Many of the primary winners also support expanding KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program. Expansion would cover about 150,000 low-income adults who earn too little to qualify for federal subsidies to help them purchase private insurance.

Kansas hospitals and other provider organizations have been pushing for expansion for the past three years. But that push has gone nowhere because of opposition from Brownback and conservative legislative leaders.

“I’ve not been opposed to it, but I have put conditions," he said.

Unreasonable conditions, according to expansion supporters--conditions that have effectively blocked any real debate on the issue.

“They’ve set up what we consider at least to be a false choice between the waiting list and KanCare expansion," says Tom Bell, president and CEO of the Kansas Hospital Association.

Brownback says he won’t consider expanding KanCare to cover poor but able-bodied adults until all Kansans with disabilities have the support services to which they’re entitled.

“Because you have people who are not able-bodied, who do have dependents who are not getting the full set of services," he said.

But Bell and others pushing for expansion see the governor’s connection of the waiting list and expansion issues as little more than a delaying tactic.

“Those two things have nothing to do with each other," Bell says. "It seems to me that it allows the governor to not have to worry about expansion for the rest of his time in office.”

Brownback may be forced to deal with the issue whether he wants to our not. Gains by moderate Republicans in the primary and anticipated victories by a handful of Democrats in the general election have expansion advocates hopeful they’ll have to votes to send a bill to the governor’s desk when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

David Jordan heads the expansion advocacy group Alliance for a Healthy Kansas.

“Looking at the dynamic of how the races are shaping up, we see broad support for expanding KanCare," he says.

Broad support--but maybe not broad enough to override a Brownback veto, should it come to that.