GOP gubernatorial candidate Sam Brownback and running mate Jeff Colyer held a press conference this morning at their Topeka campaign headquarters and began describing some elements of their "Roadmap for Kansas," with the promise that more details about the plan would be revealed during the course of a bus tour scheduled to start Wednesday and end Saturday.
Brownback, who is leaving the U.S. Senate intent on becoming the next governor, said the plan had "five measurable goals."
- Increasing the state's average net personal income beyond $34,500 a year.
- Increasing private sector employment.
- Increasing the percentage of fourth graders who read at grade level.
- Increasing the percentage of high school graduates in college or who are career ready.
- Decreasing the number of children living in poverty.
Brownback also said the state's school finance formula, "is broken," but was not specific about how it should be fixed other than to say, "we need to focus the state's dollars on classroom instruction, promote innovation...and pursue unified accounting of school districts' use of state funds."
He said he would work with legislators to "reform the school finance formula."
"The governor's job is to lead, not to dictate," he said.
Brownback was introduced by Colyer, a state senator and plastic surgeon from Overland Park, and then spoke for several minutes to a friendly audience of about 50 supporters and campaign workers. Also at the event were reporters and camera operators for the state's leading news organizations. Brownback's state campaign headquarters is in a strip mall at 21st and Randolph streets in Topeka near Washburn University and the Kansas Neurological Institute.
The bus tour begins at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday in Topeka then heads west for two days before returning to southeast Kansas, concluding Saturday evening at a Stillwell fund raising event. Stillwell is in Johnson County.
There are planned stops in 28 cities. Policy statements are to be released along the way in Manhattan, Colby, Sharon Springs, Garden City, Dodge City, Colwich and Iola, campaign officials said.
Brownback said the policy statements would cover a variety of issues including education, energy, animal science, aviation, health care and the "military/intellectual complex."
He said the campaign hoped to inspire "robust debate," about the future of Kansas and how to improve it.
Neither Brownback nor Colyer spoke specifically about health care except when questioned by the media.
Colyer has served on the health committees in the Legislature, both in the Kansas House and currently in the Kansas Senate.
Brownback has been an outspoken opponent of federal health reform and has called for "defunding," the new law since it is unlikely Republicans would be able to repeal it while Obama is president.
He said if elected governor, he would "fulfill the laws as required, but continue to lobby against it," when asked what his approach to implementing health reform would be.
"I really question whether the money will be there to make it happen," he said of the health reform law, portions of which have already become effective.
Major provisions of the new law, including a major expansion of Medicaid and the creation of an insurance exchange, are not scheduled to become effective until 2014.
An analysis of the new health reform law commissioned by the Kansas Health Policy Authority concluded that Kansas would save an estimated $206 million in Medicaid costs between 2014 and 2019 and that 131,000 uninsured Kansans would gain coverage as a result of the health reform law. The new law would add between $2 million and $32 million a year in state costs beginning in 2020, according to the report.
Brownback said if his administration succeeded in improving the state's economy and education, then there would be "more resources for health care and the people with needs."
Children in poverty
Shannon Cotsoradis, president of Kansas Action for Children, a Topeka-based advocacy group, said the group was pleased that two of Brownback's top five priorities were focused on children.
"We were delighted to see that they've made a commitment to reducing the number of children in poverty," she said. "That would have a very positive impact in our state."
She said the rate of childhood poverty in the state had increased 25 percent between 2000 and 2008, which means about 100,000 additional Kansas children are living in poor homes.
"It's a deeply troubling trend," she said.
And the latest statistics, cited by KAC and the Brownback campaign, didn't include results from the latest recession.
"We expect in the next couple of years these numbers could be considerably worse," she said. "The current recession is certainly longer and deeper than the 9/11 recession."
Cotsoradis said she couldn't remember any other gubernatorial candidate emphasizing the problem of childhood poverty as part of a campaign platform.
"Certainly, no one has ever tackled it from the poverty vantage point," she said, "and as you know that's one of the most critical social determinants in health."
"Short on details"
Seth Bundy, a spokesman for Brownback's opponent, Democrat Tom Holland, said Brownback's roadmap plan was long on swell sounding goals but short on details how to accomplish them.
"His five measurables, who wouldn't want them?" Bundy said, but still missing were the specifics on how the Republican would create jobs or remake the school finance formula.
Bundy said Holland's priorities were spelled out on the issues page of the candidate's Website.
Brownback promised during his first month as governor he would:
- Freeze state general fund spending at the current level for at least his first year in office.
- Implement a economic development strategic plan that "encourages free enterprise, helps small businesses, and build on our areas of strength in agriculture, aviation, manufacturing, natural resources and energy development, the service sector, transportation and bioscience."
- Create a Citizens Regulatory Review Board, "to review new regulations before implementation so that our regulations are effective and make sense to the public."
- Create an Office of the Repealer, "who will make specific recommendations on statutes and regulations that have out-lived their original function, are in conflict with one another, or simply do not make sense.
Spokesmen for the state's social service agencies said a general fund spending freeze might lead to curtailed services, but that would depend to some degree on the priorities chosen by the next governor and Legislature.
In July, Secretary of Social and Rehabilitation Services Don Jordan said that without additional funding for his agency, people with physical and developmental disabilities would have to wait longer for services.
Some of the state’s community mental health centers have already started waiting lists for non-emergency services due to budget problems, he said, and the state hospitals for the mentally ill are increasingly filled beyond capacity.
Without additional funding, SRS would not be able to restore the grants the mental health centers use to cover the costs of serving the uninsured, Jordan said.
Last week, Kansas Department on Aging Secretary Martin Kennedy said he would ask for an additional $4 million to $5 million in the current fiscal year to avoid having to start a waiting list for in-home services for frail seniors who are at risk of having to move to a nursing home.
Kansas Health Policy Authority officials said they already had been looking for ways to curb state Medicaid costs.
“We have recognized for a long time the need to control the spiraling cost of Medicaid and of health care generally,” agency spokesman Peter Hancock wrote in an email to KHI News Service. “Kansas faces historic economic challenges right now and those are not likely to go away anytime soon. That’s why we’re focused right now on identifying the real cost drivers in Medicaid and then looking at strategies that can truly help bring those costs under control.
“Part of the challenge for Medicaid, however, is that it’s an entitlement program,” Hancock wrote. “That means anyone who applies for benefits and meets the eligibility guidelines is entitled to receive them. In addition, we have federal mandates now that say we cannot reduce the benefits we currently offer, and we can’t restrict eligibility any further than we already do.
"So the only way for us to really control costs is through better management and coordination of health care, especially among the high-cost populations – the elderly, the disabled, and people with multiple chronic conditions. That’s where we’re focusing our efforts right now and we look forward to working with the next administration to develop sound, evidence-based strategies to provide better, more effective, and more cost-efficient health care.”