‘Who was that guy?’ Shawnee Mission area officials react to Sam Brownback’s final State of the State address

Brownback delivered his final State of the State address Tuesday. File photo.
Brownback delivered his final State of the State address Tuesday. File photo.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback delivered his eighth and final State of the State address on Tuesday, calling for the investment of $600 million in K-12 schools over five years — but saying taxes will not go up to fund the move.

The speech was met with confusion by many lawmakers, with some conservatives balking at his concession in the school funding debate, moderates wondering how he was going to pay for the increased spending, and Democrats surprised that they agreed with some of his policy proposals.

Here’s what some members of the Shawnee Mission-area delegation to the statehouse had to say about Brownback’s speech:

Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway)

Last night the governor proposed adding $600 million more to K-12 public education over five years, emphasized the need to increase teacher salaries, increase school counselors by 150 positions a year for five years, add more schools to the Kansans Can school redesign effort, ensure all Kansas students have access to their choice of either the ACT or Work Keys tests at no cost to their family, and ensure every student graduates with a minimum of 15 hours of dual credit also at no cost to their family.

Laudable goals. I have been calling on this administration to support that level of increased funding for years. At 9am today, the Governor’s budget proposal will be delivered to the legislature. I will be interested in the details, as last night’s speech had none. The specifics matter. Will he propose more delayed payments, more reckless borrowing, another attempt to sell the future tobacco settlement payments or more fund sweeps to pay for his proposals?

Without a comprehensive plan, this represents more failed leadership from this administration. Had the governor been willing to work with the legislature last year, these issues could have been easily resolved.

I stand ready to answer the court and certainly support increased funding for our public schools but we cannot tackle that problem in isolation. Years of budget cuts have taken a toll – crisis in our foster care system, riots in our prisons, loss of accreditation at our state mental hospital, delayed payments to KPERS, cancelled transportation projects, lack of firefighting resources, difficulty attracting and retaining qualified employees in our courts, our prisons, our law enforcement agencies and our schools. The list of problems is long.

Last year, Kansans stepped up and took action at the ballot box and lawmakers answered the call to get Kansas back on track. We made good progress in spite of the governor’s efforts to stop us, and we owe it to the people of Kansas to continue working on responsible solutions.

Rep. Jerry Stogsdill (D-Prairie Village)

Who was that guy? Last night Governor Sam Brownback, in his State of the State address laid out a wonderful and progressive vision for the state of Kansas. It is a vision I wholeheartedly support. Unfortunately, Governor Brownback has, for seven years, worked against every aspect of that vision. He laid out a vision for great public schools while spending the last seven years working against public education. He laid out a vision for fiscal responsibility and yet his policies, programs and “tax experiment” nearly wrecked the economy of Kansas. He laid out a vision of Kansas where everyone had access to affordable healthcare and yet he vetoed the Medicaid expansion bill last year. He envisioned a governmental process based on cooperation and non-partisanship yet supported neither of those during his last seven years in office.

I will continue to work to implement the vision for Kansas that was laid out by the Governor last night and, hopefully, our next governor will support that vision and actually do the things necessary to see that vision become a reality.

Rep. Brett Parker (D-Overland Park)

As a teacher, Governor Brownback’s speech reminded me of a student who only recently remembered his final project is due. After spending more than half of the time introducing people more popular than himself and killing time waiting out the applause, Governor Brownback was pleased to announce that Kansas should increase school funding. I hope he was not disappointed that we did not find his idea original or innovative. Perhaps in haste to flee for Washington D.C., the governor forgot his own devastating legacy when it comes to school funding. Perhaps he has spent so much time in his own echo chamber that he missed the cries of parents, educators, and responsible legislators who have fought year after year for our schools. One can imagine his surprise upon leaving the chamber and being told by his bravest staffer that his idea has, in fact, been around for quite some time. Worse yet, it’s been the central policy proposal of his opposition.

After taking the evening to grade the governor’s State of the State, this educator is forced to issue an incomplete. Ever the optimist for students though, I hope he will follow up by citing the sources of his unoriginal idea (Democrats, Republican moderates, and the Kansas Constitution) and show his work when it comes to funding sources. If not, I recommend a remedial term in Washington D.C.

Rep. Cindy Holscher (D-Lenexa)

When my oldest was 12, she made the following statement: “whenever a politician doesn’t want to answer questions or be held accountable, they just tell a bunch of stories to try to distract the listener and avoid the issues.” She’s correct in her observation. And with Governor Brownback’s State of the State address tonight, we heard a lot of stories – about people he has met, places he has visited, etc., etc. What we didn’t get were solutions to the many problems facing our state. Maybe we were just supposed to be pacified that the Governor actually acknowledged we have some serious issues. But, of course, their was no mention of his role and the damage caused by the Brownback experiment.

Part of the Governor’s address was spent talking about everything Kansas could be. He’s correct that this state – and our people – have so much promise. The Governor even mentioned the need to strengthen our schools by adding $600M in funding. What was missing though were ideas, or a vision, on how this should be accomplished. Dreams are great, but they need a plan to make them reality. Fortunately, we have a coalition of bright, focused Legislators in our state who are willing to do the heavy lifting to help rebuild this state. And each one of us will have to play our part, because, once again tonight, we were shown we have a leader who refuses to lead.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park)

In his final major policy proposal, Governor Brownback has done what he does best, which is to present the legislature with yet another unbalanced and unworkable budget proposal. I will do what I have always done, which is to ignore his irrational suggestions, and work around him in order to find a viable, sustainable solution to our education funding crisis. The Governor may have time for vindictive histrionics, but legislators have work to do, and we look forward to hearing your suggestions and concerns, as we restore stability to the state.

Rep. Nancy Lusk (D-Overland Park)

Given that he has just governed the state for past seven years and he is expected to leave soon, the governor’s speech was odd because he spoke of new dreams for a better future in Kansas.

I agree with the governor that $600 million is needed to fully fund K-12.

The Democrats are more than willing to work with the Republicans in coming up with a school finance funding solution. We have some ideas. But, to find a solution, the legislature will need to maintain and build on the bipartisan coalition that was successful last session.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley (D-Merriam)

The Gov. had a lot to say this evening that sounded supportive of funding state services and supporting Kansans, but the proof is in the pudding. I want to see what’s in his budget, and I want to see him take action to back up his words. If we’ve learned anything the last few years, people will say a lot of things, but it’s what they do that matters.

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Sen. Jim Denning (R-Overland Park), the Senate Majority Leader, did not respond to our request for comment on the speech, but he did speak with the Associated Press’s John Hanna Tuesday night, saying that Brownback’s proposal was financially irresponsible:

Rooker spoke with Hanna as well, telling him that Brownback’s speech rang of “feel good talking points” without a viable plan behind them:

Below is video of the speech in its entirety: