Davis says Brownback's tax policy 'reckless'
By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT
Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, minority leader of the Kansas House of Representatives, said he believes a second term for Gov. Sam Brownback would be a setback for Kansans.
Davis visited Hays as part of his campaign to unseat the Republican in the 2014 election.
Brownback's track record suggests he is decidedly anti-education, Davis said.
"After he paraded around the state declaring his support for higher education, when it came time to really back up his rhetoric, he folded like a cheap suit and signed into law $66 million of cuts to higher education," he said.
The 11-year veteran of the Kansas House said the governor's "reckless" tax policy is an experiment gone awry.
"This was a tax bill that sent the budget immediately into the red. Then he had to come back the next year and seek a tax increase and to double down on more bad tax policy," Davis said.
Brownback's vision has shifted responsibility for funding government's operations to cities and counties, Davis said. The change threatens to increase sales and property taxes.
"The result of that has been folks who are at the top end of the income scale are going to see some pretty dramatic tax reductions, while the burden of funding state government and all levels of government is shifting more and more onto the middle class," he said.
Voting results from the 2012 presidential election suggest Davis might face long odds of claiming the governorship. Only Wyandotte and Douglas counties went in favor of President Barack Obama as Mitt Romney won 60 percent of the state's popular vote.
Despite the math, Davis was optimistic about his chances with the electorate.
"Kansas has had a tradition of electing Democratic governors, especially in times when they perceive that the Republican governor has really got the state headed in the wrong direction," he said.
Clayton Barker, executive director for the Kansas Republican Party, said Brownback's re-election would usher in an era of stability for the state. Tax cuts take two years to circulate in an economy, and the payoffs will lead to new jobs, workers relocating to Kansas and increased tax revenue.
"I think Gov. Brownback, in the three years he's been governor, has seen an amazing turnaround in the state. He added about 40,000 jobs. That was after a decade where we were the only state in the country that had a net loss of tax-paying jobs," Barker said.
The governor turned a $500 million projected deficit into a $500 million surplus, increased K-12 spending and cut the income tax, Barker said. The reduction in higher education funding was a compromise by Brownback.
"The governor wanted to keep higher education funding flat, and the Legislature wanted to reduce it, and there was a lot of negotiating. And in the end, it was reduced slightly, just a small haircut," he said.
Barker said Brownback is equipped to handle the tough decisions that lie ahead. Reforming the unfunded pension system and paying to dredge the state's reservoirs of silt will test the future governor.
Chapman Rackaway, political science professor at Fort Hays State University, said Kansas Democrats have disadvantages in voter registration numbers and a lack of elected officials to promote candidates. The governor's policies have alienated many within the state, but they allow him to use campaign rhetoric that forces Davis to discuss tax increases.
"Brownback can say, 'I cut your taxes,' and Davis, in talking about how property taxes are too high and how education spending is too low, well, there's no fat in the budget to reallocate to education spending. He's going to have to increase revenue somehow," he said.
Brownback will be aided by his party's success with fundraising, reaching voters and crafting compelling messages, Rackaway said.
Recent data shows Davis might have a narrow advantage over the governor. An October poll of 511 registered voters by SurveyUSA had Davis in the lead with 43 percent and Brownback with 39 percent.