How strong is Sam Brownback's tea?
The Kansas City Star
“If you want to know what a Tea Party America might look like, there is no place like Kansas.”
So begins this Washington Post story, which contends that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is taking the lead in bringing low-tax, small-government principles to Kansas.
Brownback probably appreciates being acknowledged in that manner. And Kansas Democrats and others would doubtlessly agree with the premise of the story. But the reality is more nuanced.
The story notes: “In the past year, three state agencies have been abolished and 2,050 jobs have been cut. Funding for schools, social services and the arts have been slashed. The new Republican governor rejected a $31.5 million federal grant for a new health-insurance exchange because he opposes President Obama’s health-care law.”
That’s all accurate. But the Republican Brownback is hardly the only governor to eliminate jobs, slash funding and seek efficiencies in government operations as the economic downturn wears on. Over in Missouri, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has assumed the mantle of “cutter in chief” for his many budget rescissions.
Brownback’s elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission makes a stronger case for tea party radicalism. And, while I think his rejection of the $31.5 million grant to develop the infrastructure for a health insurance exchange was petty and shortsighted, Kansas is not the only state to balk at creating the federally mandated exchanges.
I think we have to wait until Brownback unveils his plans for income tax reform next month to really assess how determined he is to radically move the state toward the uber-free market principles espoused by his benefactors in the Koch conglomerate.
On school reform, Brownback has shied away so far from overt promotion of vouchers or tax credits for private schools. His plan to reform the school financing formula actually allows districts to bring in more property tax money if residents agree to it.
In a meeting with The Kansas City Star’s editorial board this week, Brownback surprisingly started touting the benefits of the federal wind production tax credit, which he said needs to be continued in order to make wind energy viable. It was a bit surreal hearing him advocate for a federal tax credit to promote alternative energy, especially since he’d just finished telling us that loopholes and exemptions in Kansas’ income tax code constituted “social engineering” and need to be removed. But Brownback said he’d voted for the wind production tax credit while in the U.S. Senate. “My first focus is this is great for Kansas,” he said.
I think at the core Brownback is a rock-solid religious conservative and a true believer in limited government principles. He and his staff have a ruthless streak, which will be on full display in 2012 as the governor’s political operatives work to dislodge the moderate Republicans who are standing in the way of full legislative cooperation.
But my sense is also that Brownback wants to be the successful governor of a successful state. He will push his principles as far as he can, but he may not push them as far as his opponents fear, or as far as some of his supporters may wish.