Thursday, January 16, 2014

Likely opponents Brownback, Davis speak on school funding

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday blamed his predecessors for school budget cuts, but his likely Democratic opponent, House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence, said Brownback's massive tax cuts have eliminated the state's ability to adequately finance schools.

The two spoke back-to-back to nearly 200 school officials at the Kansas Association of School Boards government relations seminar.

"The Brownback tax plan is crippling our state," Davis said.

Budget projections show that the state will take in $500 million less next year than this year, Davis said. "It's a jaw-dropping figure," he said.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit pending before the Kansas Supreme Court could require the state to increase school funding by nearly $500 million per year.

But Brownback defended his tax policy as necessary for the state to grow economically.

"We've got to stimulate growth," he said.

Since taking office, Brownback has signed into law billions of dollars worth of income tax cuts.

Davis said that has prevented legislators from restoring school funds cut during the Great Recession.

But Brownback said when he came into office he faced a devastating budget shortfall.

Prior to Brownback's taking office in January 2011, the state had used federal stimulus funds to prop up school funding, but then those funds elapsed, he said.

Brownback said he added $100 million to school funding, but schools still took a hit because of the loss of federal funds.

He also said he had to pump more money into the public employee retirement system, which includes school employees, because for years it had been under-funded.