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Kansas Rebellion: Bipartisan Revolt Against Gov. Brownback

Jeff Blackwood has had enough of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s economic policies that included across-the-board tax cuts.

Blackwood, the founder of the Kansas City healthcare technology firm Pathfinder Health Innovations, announced on the company’s blog June 13 that he’s moving to Missouri.

“I can’t, in good conscience, continue to give our tax money to a government that actively works against the needs of its citizens; a state that is systematically targeting the citizens in most need, denying them critical care and reducing their cost of life as if they’re simply a tax burden that should be ignored,” Blackwood wrote on his blog.

That’s the kind of statement that has been sending shockwaves through the Kansas political hierarchy, and some of those who ran things for decades in Topeka have also had enough

All four living, former Kansas governors — two Democrats and two Republicans — are among more than a dozen politicians who have launched a bipartisan group, the Save Kansas Coalition, to warn fellow Kansas residents about Gov. Sam Brownback.

Republicans Bill Graves and Mike Hayden, along with Kathleen Sebelius and her fellow Democrat John Carlin, accused Gov. Brownback of pushing Kansas into a financial crisis by pushing the Legislature to cut personal tax rates by 29 percent in 2012 and 2013.

Kansas has struggled to balance its budget ever since, and the state’s credit rating has fallen.

Both Standard & Poor’s Ratings and Moody’s Investor Service downgraded Kansas’ credit rating in August 2014 and warned in April 2016 that further downgrades could be coming.

“Our state of affairs is on a continuous decline,” said Hayden in the Save Kansas Coalition press release.

The latest financial crisis to embroil Topeka was legislation to keep public school classrooms open.

A special session of the Legislature culminated with lawmakers passing the school finance bill June 24, and Gov. Brownback promising to sign it.

The AP reported the bill boosts state aid to poor schools in response to a court mandate and ended a threat that the state’s public schools might be forced to close.

“Now we can move forward with the other issues that the state faces,” Brownback said.

Rep. Melissa Rooker (R) told the Kansas City Star the legislation was nothing more than a temporary “safe harbor.”

“This was triage,” Rooker said. “The state has a number of different areas of crisis going on. This was the most immediate.

Democrats and some Republicans have continually blasted Brownback’s idea that cutting taxes would be the key to revitalizing the Kansas economy. They argued that the 2016-2017 budget approved by House and Senate negotiators in February did nothing more than paper over problems for another year.

However, in its June 24 press release, the Save Kansas Coalition did more than criticize Brownback. The coalition urged Kansas voters to throw Brownback and every other ultra-conservative politician out of office.

Carlin said it was time to “change the faces in the legislature.”

“Investments in education and infrastructure have always been key to economic growth. As we continue to slight these important measures,” Carlin said in the press release, “we endanger our ability to ever recover economically, reducing the quality of life for all Kansans.”

“Kansans are waking up to acknowledge we’ve got many of the wrong people in state office,” he added.

But here’s the problem, as the Save Kansas Coalition sees it; too many Kansas voters still don’t get it. They don’t understand that Gov. Sam Brownback is wrecking Kansas.

So, the Save Kansas Coalition is afraid voters will ” be vulnerable to misleading political campaigns and at risk of going to the polls and making the wrong decisions.”

That’s why the coalition’s letter also includes a plea for donations to help pay for the campaign against Brownback in advance of the state’s August primary and November general election. The coalition also plans to recruit and train candidates for the elections.

However, could it be that it’s the Save Kansas Coalition that is in error?

Brownback, in an exchange with Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D) during a State Finance Council meeting in June, rejected the idea that his tax-cutting policy was to blame for Kansas’ financial problems.

Brownback used the metaphor of a three-legged stool to explain the Kansas economy, which he said was supported by agriculture, oil and gas, and aviation.

To continue the metaphor, he said all three of those legs had broken. In addition to record low farm commodity prices, oil and gas prices had collapsed, and a recent wave of mergers and consolidations had crippled Wichita’s aviation industry.

“So your three primary legs of the Kansas economy have been in great difficulty all together,” Brownback said.

PJM reported in March that Dan Murray, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and economist Arthur Laffer said Brownback’s critics were not only ignoring evidence of success but had bought into mainstream media “myths as Kansas became the poster child of the pro-tax left.”

Pathfinder Health Innovations CEO Jeff Blackwood doesn’t put much stock in Laffer’s opinion.

“Kansas has become a test center of ‘trickle down’ economics, espoused by economist Arthur Laffer during the Reagan years,” Blackwood wrote. “Nowhere has there been as thorough an implementation of Laffer’s policy recommendations… and nowhere has there been as dramatic a failure of government.”

That aside, House Speaker Ray Merrick (R) pointed out that one of the leading members of the group, former Gov. Bill Graves, doesn’t even live in Kansas anymore.

So Merrick told the Wichita Eagle that Graves “ought to be quiet.”

Well, Blackwood won’t have a Kansas address for much longer, but he is not going away quietly.

“In the end, I believe the goals of the Brownback administration are going exactly to plan – starve the state of resources to the point,” Blackwood wrote, “where it just makes sense to turn over critical government functions to for-profit entities.”