By Bryan Lowry
The Wichita Eagle
August 13, 2014
TOPEKA – Gov. Sam Brownback unveiled his re-election campaign platform Tuesday, promising to add 100,000 private sector jobs to the state over the next four years.
Brownback and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer touted tax cuts made during their first term, which they said made Kansas a leader in small business growth, during campaign stops in Overland Park, Topeka and Wichita.
In launching his “Road Map 2.0,” Brownback said the job growth would help sway the state’s young people to stay in Kansas rather than depart for opportunities elsewhere.
“You need to have purpose in your growth,” Brownback said. “We want to have our children and our grandchildren and their children to come, to have a place to come and to say, ‘This is where I want to invest my life. I don’t have to go to Houston, or Dallas, or Chicago or somewhere else to invest my life. No, I can invest it in Kansas. And I can do everything I want to right here in this state.’ ”
“Kansas. This is where we want them live. And it’s not going to happen if we’re not growing and dynamic,” he said.
Brownback said job growth would create enough revenue to mitigate the $238 million budget shortfall the state is projected to face by July 2016, according to the nonpartisan Kansas Legislative Research Department.
“We’re going to continue to grow the economy,” he said when asked about the state’s projected budget shortfall. “We’re going to continue to grow the economy,” he repeated.
When asked if the growth would happen at a fast enough rate to prevent the shortfall, the governor responded with one word: “Yes.”
Jon Hummel, the governor’s policy director, said that the administration did not foresee cuts happening at this time, but that it would review the budget in November when the revenue estimating group convenes.
“We don’t really know all that until the November estimate,” Hummel said. “We don’t really set plans in the middle of the fiscal year. In November the group will get back together and we’ll look at Medicaid, education, all those things, and then we’ll decide what has to be done.”
Several economists and policy analysts have warned that the state may be unable to avoid serious budget cuts in the coming year.
Chris Pumpelly, spokesman for Paul Davis, the Democratic nominee in the governor’s race, said in a statement that the “state is facing a budget crisis of Sam Brownback’s making.”
“Sam Brownback said he wants to ‘hit the accelerator’ on his ‘Road Map,’ ” Pumpelly said. “Kansans just can’t afford that. They want a governor who will focus on working across party lines to find commonsense, Kansas solutions for our families.”
Brownback and Colyer repeatedly touted job growth that had resulted from their policies, taking credit for 55,000 new private sector jobs since they took office.
Job numbers have been an area of dispute in the race. Democrats have repeatedly noted that Kansas lags the nation in growth and was one of the only states to lose more jobs than it gained between November 2013 and May 2014.
The Kansas City Star noted in an editorial last month that Brownback’s figures omit the 8,300 public sector jobs that have been lost since Brownback took office, which if included would put Kansas’ job growth at 3.5 percent compared to the U.S. average of 6.1 percent.
The Star noted that even if one excludes public sector jobs and only focuses on private sector jobs, Kansas has a 5.1 percent growth rate since Brownback took office – which still falls below the U.S. average of 7.6 percent and below neighbors Colorado and Oklahoma, at 10.2 and 8.1 percent respectively.
With the goal of adding 25,000 jobs a year in the next four years, Brownback promised to develop a statewide export strategy and recruit more advanced manufacturing to the state.
Brownback also proposed creating a program for urban communities to revitalize high poverty areas in Wichita and other cities that would be loosely modeled on the Rural Opportunity Zones, a program that encourages doctors and other professionals to move to under-served rural communities through tax breaks and other benefits.
“We would like to do something like that in urban (communities),” Brownback said. “Because our rural one has worked well. … And you create an opportunity. That’s what we’re trying to do is create an opportunity in an area that’s had challenges to it.”
Several of Brownback’s original Road Map goals from 2010 have still yet to be accomplished. For example, the governor promised to increase fourth-grade reading scores during his 2010 campaign. However, the state’s fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have gone down a point since Brownback took office, while most states saw increases.
He also promised to decrease the number of children living in poverty, but the percentage of Kansas children living below the poverty line has increased since Brownback took office, according to Kansas Action for Children.
Brownback said he was still focused on making progress on education and social policy and would be unveiling his plans on those issues in the coming weeks.
The Davis campaign attacked Brownback for not accomplishing all of the goals in his 2010 Road Map. “By his own metrics, his ‘Road Map’ has been an unmitigated failure,” Pumpelly said.
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