State Sen. Larry Powell isn’t worried.
Kansas is “doing fine,” the Garden City Republican from the 39th Senate District told listeners during Tuesday’s legislative candidate forum.
Considering the following problems, the faithful ally of Gov. Sam Brownback is either oblivious to what’s happened or in denial. He has, after all, wholeheartedly supported a Brownback agenda causing:
• Seemingly never-ending budget shortfalls triggered by the governor’s reckless income-tax cuts that mostly benefited wealthy Kansans and small businesses now paying no income taxes.
• Unprecedented borrowing exceeding amounts needed during the Great Recession.
• The biggest tax increase in state history, mostly sales taxes that disproportionately punished low-income Kansans.
• Billions of dollars diverted away from state-funded ventures, to include highway projects, universities, early childhood health and education programs, Medicaid and aid for seniors, among others.
• Job growth trailing neighboring and peer states.
• The loss of more than $1.2 billion so far in federal funds by not expanding Medicaid, which would help struggling hospitals and some 150,000 working poor in need of coverage.
While it’s all just part of the damage done since the governor took office in 2011, he’s never admitted anything’s wrong.
His ultraconservative allies, Powell included, kept on pursuing numerous bad bills crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an outfit working for major corporations such as Koch Industries.
Far-reaching ALEC pursuits designed to shrink government and improve corporations’ bottom lines range from shortchanging public education to slashing income taxes.
That’s not to say tax breaks aren’t desirable. They are when responsibly planned and executed.
Moderates in the Kansas Legislature led by then-Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, had a much more prudent tax-cut plan in mind in 2012.
Unfortunately, Brownback steamrolled the moderates on his way to the ALEC-inspired tax policy Morris and others knew would wreck the state budget.
The governor’s self-proclaimed economic “experiment” didn’t drive the significant job growth he promised, and instead fueled the ongoing budget crisis.
More recent agriculture and energy setbacks only worsened the situation — proof of how risky the radical tax reform was in putting the state in such a vulnerable economic situation.
The resulting fallout may be just “fine” for Powell and others who’ve faithfully rubber-stamped the governor’s initiatives, but the blunders will cost Kansans for many years to come.
During the forum, we also heard Powell parrot the tired party line used by extreme-right lawmakers across Kansas: The state has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.
Keep in mind that ultraconservatives dominating the Legislature who claim as much pushed to spend $2.6 million in taxpayer dollars on an efficiency study of state government that produced more than 100 ideas for savings and new revenue — and then did practically nothing with it.
Now on the campaign trail, we’ll hear the same ultraconservatives desperate to keep their Statehouse seats malign opponents over taxes.
Powell did as much during the forum in calling out his challenger, Rep. John Doll, R- Garden City, after Doll rightly said returning to a more stable tax revenue stream made more sense than repeated money grabs and shell games to fill budget holes.
Powell jabbed Doll minutes after defending his own vote for the biggest tax increase in state history — and Powell campaigned on a promise to not raise taxes.
Doll opposed the sales-tax hike that failed, as expected, to mend persistent state budget woes.
He’s among lawmakers who know the only realistic fix moving forward is in addressing Brownback’s personal and business income-tax cuts that went too far, too fast.
Powell also said he’d oppose higher property taxes to lower state funding for K-12 public schools, yet voted for an ALEC block-grant funding scheme designed to push more of the tax burden to the local level. Doll voted against the fixed block grants that shortchanged school districts by not accounting for changes in enrollment and other uncontrollable costs.
The state can no longer afford legislators who claim things are “fine” when they aren’t, and want to continue on a path of insanity.
Consider Powell’s unwillingness to accept reality a sobering reminder of all that’s wrong in the Statehouse.
Voters will have a chance in the Aug. 2 GOP primary to remove incumbents who support the governor and want to extend his destructive agenda. In southwest Kansas’ 39th Senate District, the choice for change is obvious.
Email Editor-publisher Dena Sattler at firstname.lastname@example.org.