Budget will top state?s agenda again

With the most recent estimate for the shortfall in revenue for this year?s state budget at $550,000, Rep. Bob Brookens says it should be no surprise that budget issues will again dominate this year?s legislative session, which is beginning this week in Topeka.

The Marion Republican, who was sworn in earlier this week for his second term in office, said balancing the current budget and approving one for next year will be a challenge.

?The economy, obviously, has not yet kicked back in fully, but we are better off than we were a year ago,? Brookens said. ?The projections that were made last year have been right on target.?

He said if not for former Gov. Mark Parkinson?s initiative to raise the state sales tax by 1 percent, the budget shortfall would have been around $900 million.

?I still stand on that, and as time has gone on, more and more people have indicated that they agree it was an OK thing to do,? Brookens said of his support for the increase. ?They didn?t realized how little it would affect them.

?My biggest concern is for the automobile industry, and always was,? he added. ?But without (the increase) we were lined up in this district to watch two nursing homes close. I couldn?t sit still and let that happen or be a part of something that caused it.?

New governor in charge

Rather than leaving the process of budget-balancing to the wrangling of legislators, Brookens? sense is that the state?s new governor, Republican Sam Brown?back, is determined to take leadership on the issue.

?I?m very hopeful that Gov. Brownback will lead and that others will follow?at least in education,? he said, which he cited as a major issue for patrons of his 70th District.

Brownback was quoted last week as saying the core functions of state government?Medicaid, K-12 education, higher education and public safety?will be his most immediate budget priorities as he and legislators attempt to revive the state?s economy.

Challenges within the GOP

Even though Republicans swept the top leadership roles and tightened their hold on both houses in Topeka last fall, Brookens said Brownback may face opposition from the most conservative wing of the party, including a sizeable freshman class elected to office with the support of the Tea Party.

One issue of contention could be public education.

?I never did understand why the desire to punish education and the people of education, and particularly our children,? Brookens said. ?There was no willingness in the last two years to look at methods of dealing with it in education. There are issues, but they?re not necessarily money-related issues.?

Brookens predicts vouchers for private education will be debated because ?in Wichita, the folks leading the charge have been pushing for vouchers for a long time.?

From his conversations with Brownback,?Brookens believes the governor?s plan will not include vouchers.

?He didn?t say absolutely slam dunk, but he did say vouchers are not a part at all of what he?s looking at.?

Brookens said he supports private education, but adequately funding public education is state government?s constitutional responsibility.

?The state does not have the responsibility to see to it that they go to a private school,? Brookens said. ?I have no problem with private education, but it ought be done with one?s own resources.?

Brookens will continue to serve on the House?s Corrections and Juvenile Justice committees. He said he has mixed feelings about being reassigned from the Education Committee to its Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

?If I?m not going to be on Ed, at least I?m on Agriculture, which, for Marion County and Chase County, is very important,? he said. ?I?ve had a marvelous working-relationship with all eight superintendents that have students in the 70th District through the last two years.?

He said his biggest regret in his new assignment is that he will not be as well-informed about what?s happening in the area of schools.

?I?m very concerned about education, about what?s going to come down the pike,? he said.

Johnson County influences

Republicans dominate both houses of the Legislature as well as the governor?s office, but Brookens sees the potential for political conflict coming from two sources within the GOP.

One is a sizeable freshman class of legislators that won with Tea Party support and appears to be narrowly focused on accomplishing specific legislative goals?at whatever the cost.

?We know the freshman class has formed its own caucus,? Brookens said. ?Some of the freshman members have actually told us what they will be passing in legislation.?

That kind of boldness is naive at best, Brookens said.

?While you wish to capture the newness and interest of freshman legislators, somewhere in there, if they?re listening to what?s going in the committees, they may understand that there?s two sides to every pancake.?

Brookens said it didn?t bother him to watch these candidates work to unseat Democrat incumbents in last year?s elections, but that they targeted members of their own GOP party who were deemed not to be conservative enough.

What?s additionally troublesome, he added, is that the tact proved to be effective in Johnson County, which may further fuel the divide between urban and rural interests.

?I?m very uncomfortable with taking the tact for those Republi?cans that were running, saying, ?Look at what those Democrats are doing. They?re sending your tax dollars to western Kansas to buy combines and tractors. We?re going to keep our money here if you elect me.?

?That?s very dangerous,? Brookens said. ?It?s very upsetting to me that our own party would do that. We should be upset here in rural Kansas.

?I?ve worked very hard to maintain relationships from the west side of Kansas to the east side of Kansas, and to the north to the south, because I believe Marion County is affected by city and it?s affected by rural.

?We are in this together as a state,? he added. ?This divisive talk is not just counter-productive, its very harmful to the party and ultimately harmful to the people of this state and the people of this district.?

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