Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) used his State of the State address Tuesday evening to push to eliminate the state income tax and to call for overhauling the judicial selection process.
Brownback, in his speech to a state Legislature dominated by conservative Republican allies, pushed issues that have formed the core of the Kansas conservative wing's platform for the last few years. This was Brownback's first major address since conservatives won control of the state Senate from moderate Republicans last year, giving the faction control of state government.
Brownback began his speech with economic and tax issues, claiming his tax cuts increased jobs. Last year, Brownback signed into law a controversial tax plan that eliminated most corporate taxes and cut income taxes. A nonpartisan analysis, promoted by tax plan opponents, said the plan will cost the state as much as $2 billion of the $6 billion general fund budget within five years.
Brownback continued to push to eliminate income taxes. He advocated cutting most tax rates to 1.9 percent and the top tax rate to 3.5 percent this year. He said the plan would use the sales tax to pay for the lost revenue. Brownback, who has consulted with supply side economic guru Art Lafer on tax policy, said the reduction would expand the economy and the sales tax base. He indicated support for the 6.3 percent sales tax rate adopted in 2009 and scheduled to sunset over the summer.
“This glide path to zero will not cut funding for education, higher education and important safety net programs," he said.
Brownback also took aim at Texas, which he said has been luring Kansans with its lack of an income tax.
"Look out Texas, here comes Kansas," he said.
Brownback said his goal is for more young professionals to stay in Kansas. He said his tax plan would "protect families."
Brownback saved some of his harshest words for a call to overhaul the selection process for appeals court judges. Currently, Brownback selects justices for the state Supreme Court and others appeals judgeships from a list of recommendations prepared by a commission picked by the state Bar Association. Brownback instead called on the Legislature to adopt a plan that would allow him to nominate appeals judges.
“Kansans deserve a government that is not beholden to any special interest group," Brownback said.
State lawmakers are expected to start discussing judicial selection this week. The judicial selection process has been a top concern for conservatives, who have zeroed in on judicial decisions regarding education funding. Last week, a state appeals court ordered a rewrite of the school spending formula, ignoring Brownback's objections.
The issues of judicial selection and tax cuts were key to last year's state legislative campaigns, which featured Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce heavily funding independent-issue campaigns against moderate Republicans and Democrats. Moderate Republicans have accused Brownback of wanting to turn Kansas into an "ultraconservative utopia."
In what may foreshadow a 2016 presidential campaign, Brownback said his administration knew "it's way," while the country was "adrift." Brownback, a strong family values proponent, said Kansas favors "strong marriages."
“When our country seems adrift Kansas leads," he said. "In an era when many believes that America has lost it’s way, Kansas knows it’s way.”