Published Online: September 3, 2014

Davis sees Kansas school cuts if Brownback wins

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic challenger Paul Davis predicted Tuesday that state aid for Kansas public schools will be cut if Republican Gov. Sam Brownback wins re-election this year, but Davis didn't outline a specific plan to boost education funding.

Davis had a news conference Tuesday in the library of Lowman Hill Elementary School in Topeka to declare education funding will be his top priority if he's elected. Brownback pushed successfully for personal income tax cuts worth $4.1 billion collectively through mid-2018 to stimulate the economy. The state has already cut its top income tax rate by 26 percent and exempted the owners of 191,000 businesses from personal income taxes.

Critics contend the reductions are jeopardizing the state's financial health.

The Legislature's nonpartisan research staff projects a $238 million budget shortfall by July 2016, and neither candidate has outlined a specific plan for closing it. Davis has said he wants to restore school funding to levels promised in 2008, before the state felt the Great Recession, but he refused Tuesday to outline how or when the state would provide the additional hundreds of millions of dollars.

Davis instead said Brownback's tax cuts are a failed "experiment" at the expense of public schools.

"Governor Brownback wants to stay the course," Davis said. "That's going to result in more cuts for schools if Sam Brownback has his way."

Brownback spokesman John Milburn said Davis is distorting the governor's record and "is tripped up by the facts." Milburn also said Davis, the Kansas House minority leader, had a hand as a legislator in cuts in state aid to schools in 2009 and 2010, before Brownback took office.

"He continues to ignore his role in the mess and offer no solutions for how he would do things differently," Milburn said. "That's the opposite of leadership."

Education funding is a key issue because Davis is wooing moderate GOP and unaffiliated voters worried about the effects of the income tax cuts on the state's finances.

Brownback has said new jobs will generate enough new tax revenues to close the projected budget gap, though federal statistics show the state's rate of private-sector job growth still lags behind the U.S. figure since Brownback took office in January 2011.

Davis has proposed indefinitely postponing tax cuts promised after January 2015, but a report last month from legislative researchers show the policy wouldn't produce enough revenues to eliminate the projected budget shortfall before July 2016. Davis said Tuesday that the tax freeze would be a first step.

Meanwhile, candidates have declared for years that education funding will be their top budget priority. Even if they didn't, aid to public schools consumes more than half the state's tax dollars, making it the biggest item in the budget.

Brownback last week outlined second-term education goals and declared that he was reaffirming a strong commitment to public schools. His administration says Kansas is spending about $270 million more in state tax dollars on schools than it did during the 2010-11 school year, an increase of nearly 9 percent.

But even with the additional dollars, the state's base aid per student is $3,852, a decline of $581, or 13.1 percent, from its 2008 peak of $4,433. Public school officials use the base aid figure most widely in budget comparisons, but Brownback and other GOP conservatives note that it doesn't cover all spending.

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Online:

Davis campaign: http://www.davisforkansas.com/

Brownback re-election campaign: http://www.brownback.com

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .


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