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On January 1, 2017, the KHI News Service became part of KCUR public radio’s new initiative, the Kansas News Service. The Kansas News Service will continue to cover health policy news and broaden its scope to include education and politics. All stories produced by the former KHI News Service are archived here. Stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KHI.org.

Brownback says election wasn’t rejection of his policies

By | August 15, 2016

Brownback says election wasn’t rejection of his policies
Photo by Jim McLean/KHI News Service 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 reconsider his positions on tax cuts, school finance or Medicaid expansion.

The results of the recent primary election haven’t pushed Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback off his talking points.

In a rare informal conversation with Statehouse reporters late last week, Brownback was asked whether he interpreted the primary results as a rejection of his policies, his controversial income tax cuts in particular.

“I consider them (the results) to be a frustration with the budget, with K-12 (education) funding because those are the things I’m hearing the most about,” Brownback said, conceding that media coverage has led many Kansans to believe that his tax cuts are responsible for the state’s chronic budget problems.

“There’s been very little coverage of positive sides of business growth in the state,” he said, noting that small-business growth had been particularly robust on the Kansas side of the line in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

[ Listen to the radio version of this story: Kansas governor holds fast to tax policies. ]

Asked why Kansas was still among the bottom 10 states in job growth, Brownback pointed to the low unemployment rate.

“We’re at a 3.8 percent unemployment rate,” he said. “We’ve got jobs that we can’t (fill). We need people.”

The governor continues to insist that the individual and business income tax cuts he pushed through the 2012 Legislature are not responsible for revenue shortfalls that have forced cuts in Medicaid, higher education, highways and children’s programs. Downturns in mainstays of the Kansas economy — agriculture, oil and gas, and the aircraft industry — are responsible for the deep and sustained plunge in revenue collections, he said.

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

Tom Cox begs to differ. A moderate Republican, Cox beat conservative Rep. Brett Hildabrand, from Shawnee, in the Republican primary.

In a post-election interview with the Topeka Capital-Journal, Cox said voters he talked with while campaigning door-to-door wanted to send a message to Brownback.

“It was 100 percent a repudiation of his policies and specifically, the No. 1 was actually tax, not education,” Cox said.

Several conservative lawmakers who helped Brownback pass those tax cuts won’t be back. Some retired rather than face the voters. But others, like Hildabrand, were defeated by challengers who pledged to stop the bleeding and restore stability to the state budget.

“I consider them (the results) to be a frustration with the budget, with K-12 (education) funding because those are the things I’m hearing the most about.”

- Gov. Sam Brownback

Many primary winners also support expanding KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

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

During his meeting with reporters, Brownback said he isn’t inalterably opposed to expansion but has conditions that must be met: primarily the elimination of waiting lists for KanCare support services.

Thousands of Kansans with disabilities who have health coverage are on waiting lists for support services that help them live independently. Some have been waiting for years.

Brownback has said he is opposed to extending health benefits to approximately 150,000 poor but non-disabled adults until Kansans with disabilities are getting all the services to which they’re entitled.

“You have people who are not able-bodied, who have dependents who are not getting the full set of services,” he said.

Expansion advocates see Brownback’s conditions as little more than a delaying tactic.

“They (the Brownback administration) have set up what we consider at least to be a false choice between the waiting list and KanCare expansion,” said Tom Bell, president and chief executive of the Kansas Hospital Association.

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

But the governor may be forced to deal with the issue. The gains by moderate Republicans in the primary and anticipated victories by a handful of Democrats in the general election have advocates hopeful they’ll have to votes to send an expansion bill to the governor’s desk when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

“Looking at the dynamic of how the races are shaping up, we see broad support for expanding KanCare,” said David Jordan, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, an advocacy group funded by several health foundations.

Editor’s note: Many of the health foundations that support the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas also provide funding to the editorially independent KHI News Service.