Brownback asks lawmakers for radical changes


January 16, 2013 - 12:00 AM

While there was a lot of fluff in Gov. Sam Brownback’s State of the State address Tuesday night, the solid stuff was hard as rocks.
— With the state facing a $267 million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year, Brownback called for still another cut in the income tax. He proposed a 3.5 percent top rate from the current 4.9 percent and a reduction in the minimum rate from 3 percent to 1.9 percent. His goal is to eliminate the personal income tax, he said.
— He said the state’s appellate court judges should be appointed by the governor and confirmed  by the Senate rather than chosen by judicial committees and the governor, as they are at present. Brownback also said he would support electing Supreme Court judges, a change that would require a constitutional amendment.
— He proposed eliminating the Kansas Turnpike Authority and making the Kansas Department of Transportation responsible for turnpike operation and maintenance.
— The budget he is proposing will cover two years, a major change from the present one-year budget.
— With last week’s decision by a three-judge panel of the Shawnee District Court that Kansas must spend $440 million more on its public schools to meet constitutional requirements in mind, Gov. Brownback urged lawmakers to amend the constitution to give the Legislature the power to decide how much to spend on K-12 education. A constitutional amendment would be required.
His drastic proposals drew applause from the Republican majorities of the House and Senate — and stony silence from the Democrats.

THE GOVERNOR’S only recognition of the budget crisis facing the state unless spending is slashed or the one cent increase in the state sales tax passed in 2010 but set to expire this year is retained, was to advocate its retention. Most of the Democrats and many conservative Republicans want to let the penny increase expire as promised. But Brownback loyalists have solid majorities in both houses and seem likely to keep the sales tax at current levels for at least another year.
Those same majorities are also likely to politicize the appointment of appellate judges by making them subject to appointment by the governor and confirmation by the Senate. The consequence will be years of ideological judicial decisions at the appellate court level.
How the governor’s call for constitutional amendments will be answered is by no means as clear. Amendments must be approved by two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate and majority approval by the voters. Strong efforts will be made to protect the schools from further budget cuts by retaining the constitutional requirement for “a suitable education” for Kansas kids.
Thoughtful Kansans will also be slow to change the time-tested way that members of the state’s Supreme Court are chosen; a method which insulates them from partisan politics and focuses on the qualifications candidates possess rather than whom they support for governor or what positions they take on current hot button political issues.
This year will be a testing time for the good sense of Kansans and the men and women they have elected to the Legislature to guide and nurture the state.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.

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