Last week, Gov. Sam Brownback sat down with the Morning Sun for a 30-minute interview about some of the area’s biggest topics. Read on for a transcript of the interview.
Morning Sun: I wanted to start off on a big subject here in Southeast Kansas, which is transportation. KDOT continues to see its funding overall cut. T-WORKS continues to see its funding kept intact. Does that concern you, to see T-WORKS continue to get funded, but KDOT itself seeing portions of its budget cut? Gov. Sam Brownback: Well, I want and have made commitments to keep T-WORKS funded. Unfortunately, the Legislature, which is the funding entity... I’m the governor, and I execute, but I pushed for that we fully do the T-WORKS projects and the Legislature has, too. They had a vote on it in the House that they were going to try to take some funds out of it and that failed, so I’m good. I think we’re solid. The nice thing for what we’re seeing now is that our revenues are hitting projections. I think everybody was concerned when we cut taxes that, you know, are you going to be able to make this work, and to date, we’re hitting right on the revenues. The only one we’re off some — has been off on the numbers — has been sales tax, and that’s been a good news story. We’re up on sales tax receipts over projections. So I think we’re good to continue to fund. We have been trying to make efficiencies in all state government, including KDOT. What we’ve tried to do, like any entity, is trying to do our service and do it at a high quality and drop our costs within the system. That’s what you’ve seen lately KDOT going through is an effort. I’m quite bullish on what we’re going to be able to do with the turnpike authority coming in under KDOT. I talked with the head of KDOT, and we think this can really help save and put more money into highways by virtue of merging your two highway departments in the state and making them one. So you take out a big level of management, you share services. We’ve got salt domes on either side of the road at Emporia, one for the turnpike, one for KDOT. We only need one. We think we’ve got quite a bit of money we can come up with in moving those two organizations together. And expanding the turnpike. We’re looking at plans to where we can expand the turnpike. A lot of your new roads in the future are going to be toll roads. There’s just no other real way to pay for it. I’m talking about a new road, I’m not talking about four-laning down through here, but in other areas where you’re putting in a new road in a major metro area like around Kansas City, your new lanes are going to be toll lanes in all probability. MS: You mentioned, down here four-laning through to Pittsburg. Fort Scott to Arma, in the State Transportation Improvement Program [announced Thursday] still includes that piece. The Arma Connection is frequently talked about as far as being the last connector to get to Pittsburg. You’ve brought that up as something vital you expect to get done. SB: Yes. I want to get four lane from Pittsburg to Kansas City. MS: Do you see that happening as part of this transportation program, T-WORKS? And if so, how? SB: We have the potential, and no announcement’s been made since we don’t have the money in hand. If our projects come in well and our money continues, we have the potential of expanding some of the T-WORKS programs. But I don’t have anything to announce today on it. My intent is to have that as one of the very high items. I am pushing it. When I ran for governor, I said we were going to do this. We’ll keep marching it. I’d like to do it sooner rather than later, but we don’t have an announcement to make on the final piece of it. It’s a big safety issue, too, because there’s a lot of connection between Kansas City, particularly Johnson County, and Pittsburg. You want people to be safe. MS: I believe Pitt State gets more incoming freshmen from Johnson County than Crawford County. SB: That’s right. And you want people to be safe. And then a lot of people from Pittsburg will go up to a Royals game and a Chiefs game, shopping. MS: Is there as much of a push to continue it on from Pittsburg to I-44 as there is to bring it to Pittsburg? SB: Not as much. But, I think it should happen. That makes a very logical corridor, then, particularly for economic growth. And you’ve got a nice four-lane corridor into a major artery. When you’re locating entities, in particular that are having to move goods, they’re looking, OK, what’s my cost of transportation. You need that, that’s a valuable piece.
Page 2 of 5 - Education
MS: Let’s shift gears here a little bit. Let’s move toward education. That’s another big issue here. Transportation and education are the two ones you hear around here a lot. Technical education has been a big emphasis of your administration. You guys have made some shifts toward that. Where do you see that going as your term continues? SB: It has been, to me, one of the most amazing policy proposals in the state I’ve been around. We did two things that cost some money. We said the state will pay for all technical education while you’re in high school, and we’ll give the school districts $1,000 for each high school. We’ve had a 50 percent increase in enrollment in technical education in about a year, year and a half, with nice new facilities coming online in Kansas City, Kan. I did a ribbon cutting on Monday [Aug. 12] of this week. We just had a conversation, here, about expanded technical education opportunities in this area. So it’s just really taken off like a rocket. I’m really pleased about that. The price tag for the state’s gone up. We started off funding it at $8 million. It went to $11 million. And I’m happy as a clam to advocate for that. We need kids to be getting out of high school with a skill. If they’re not going to go on to college, we need to make sure they have a skill. Even if you are going on to college, it’s great to have a skill so you can get a better job somewhere. Or a lot of people, anymore, are getting higher educaiton on the fly. You’re not taking out years. You’re working while you’re going to school. OK, now I’ve got my CNA, I can make a little more. Now that I’ve got my welding certificate, I can make a lot more. Then, I’m working somewhere instead of at minimum wage. That’s moving along nicely, and I see a substantial expansion of that continue to take place. And the number we’re tracking is the number of industry-recognized certifications coming out of high school. Because that number had been going down and our push is really going to get that number up. That’s a checkmark you can cross when you walk into places. [You can say], “I can do this, and I’m worth it. And I will earn more money that way.” That was in the road map on five measurables. One is to get more students, on graduation night, they’ve either got an ACT score that gets them into a four-year school or I’ve got a technical certification that I have that’s a marketable skill. MS: I’ve heard it referred to as work ready or college ready. SB: I’m ready to go one way or the other. And many will end up going both, which is great. MS: Hopefully, they will get a job out of college. SB: Well, that’s a problem. I’ve had two kids graduate from college. One had a technical skill getting out. The other one’s journalism. Your field. She [has a] master’s degree, University of Maryland. Got a job, and she qualified to apply for food stamps. Now you’re going, alright. So she went back to teaching. You need skills. And you’re going to need to be able to market. [Conversation turns to the figure cited about a 50 percent increase in technical education enrollment. Gov. Brownback’s deputy communications director explained the figures are actually a 50 percent increase in the number of students enrolled, 54 percent increase in credit hours taken, and a 28 percent increase in the number of industry recognized certificates.] MS: If you’re seeing such an improvement in the number of the students in colleges, both community and university level, is there any push toward increasing the funding for those schools — the community colleges, the universities — so they can take on more students? SB: They love what we’re doing. And I say that, from what I’m hearing them say, they like what we’re doing and we’re paying them for the credit hours while they’re in high school. So they’ve got a huge enrollment increase. And they’re happy with that. Everybody would always like more. MS: I’m referring more to if they’re seeing a 50 percent increase in students, there’s a certain amount of space available. Eventually, they’ll need more buildings, more teachers, more etc. That may not be able to be covered by tuition. Tuition covered by the state is great, but as far as a percentage of the person’s actual schooling, state contributions have been falling over the years. If you’re increasing the number of students, at some point you’re going to run out of space or teachers or facilities or equipment. Is that a concern for you? Will there be added funding to help compensate for that additional growth? SB: To date, everybody’s very happy to have student growth because we haven’t been fully utilizing the space in technical education, because our numbers have been poor and we’ve had new facilities come online in KCK, Wichita, Hutchinson, we’ve got a lot of new facilities coming along, so I think they’re happy to see more students. I would like to correct your earlier statement, because I get this all the time. We have not cut funding to K-12 since I’ve been in office. The total package, and this is where the debate comes in, the total package that the state puts in is building money, because we put in building money, we put in pension money for teachers, and we put in base state aid plus the multipliers on all the weighting. It’s a pretty complicated formula. But those are the three pieces. But every year I’ve been in office, that total number has gone up in the state of Kansas. The school districts, the first year the ARRA, the federal money, went away, and they were getting the ARRA money. And we did not have the money to replace all the ARRA money. So the school districts saw their total amount of money go down. Their money from the state went up, but their federal money went away. And so then they said, “We’ve been cut this by the state.” No, you have not been cut this by the state. The ARRA money went away, which... Every year I’ve been in office, you put those together, and it’s gone up. People say, well, you can’t count pensions. I say well, that’s a big number, and I don’t know anybody that wants... you’ve got to pay for your pension. I get my back up when people say that. MS: I was referring to base state aid per pupil rather than the total amount of funds. That is a debate, and I recognize that. SB: Well, then move some of these other things to base state aid. But the total number has gone up of K-12 support from the state.
Page 3 of 5 - Poverty
MS: Shift gears again. We did transportation, we did education. Another big issue around here is poverty. I believe roughly 60 percent of our students are on free and reduced lunches. SB: That’s what the superintendents are telling me. MS: Our unemployment level is higher than the rest of the state. We’re traditionally a high unemployment area. However, it’s not particularly insane enough to think [the poverty] is all because unemployment is so high. The unemployment rate is 5.8 or 7, it’s under 7, at least here [Note: July numbers showed 6.3 percent in Crawford County.] If we have unemployment at that level, does the fact that we have so many students on free and reduced lunches indicate something about the jobs that are being offered? SB: I think it indicates that if you look at the numbers nationwide, per capita income, real per capita income. You’ve got some basing for inflation, which hasn’t been much lately, has actually gone down. The average family’s income in America over the last five years in real terms has gone down in America. This is not a good trendline. And we see it in this state. Now we haven’t had it as bad as some other areas. Our unemployment has been less, and some of our base industries have done very well. Oil and gas has done well, agriculture’s doing well. Manufacturing’s coming back. But you don’t have as many jobs in ag as you did 20 years ago. You don’t have as many jobs in manufacturing as you did 20 years ago. Oil and gas has created a lot of jobs. You see a lot more people working part time. And you’ve seen that number growing nationwide. And that’s a real problem. That came up in this last meeting, we were talking about more technical training of people so people can get out and get a higher paying job than they’re currently getting. I want to get more manufacturing jobs, because generally manufacturing jobs pay better. You’ve got to have a skill. You’ve got to be able to run a machine, you’ve got to be able to use a computer on a very sophisticated machine because manufacturing jobs now are not what they were 20 years ago. So those are key and we’re trying to create an atmosphere where you’re growing particularly small business. Because that’s where three-fourths of Kansans work. Is either for themselves or somebody who has 10 or fewer employees. And we don’t put a lot of recruitment dollars from states into that. We go recruit the big entities. I was at a Cerner ribbon cutting today, and we put in a lot of money to getting Cerner, and their jobs. Glad to have them. But that’s not where most people work. So we went to zero on taxes on LLCs and sub-S’s. That’s real big. We’ve seen a huge growth in LLC/Sub-S filings. We’re getting really good growth in the Kansas City on the Kansas side. Job growth is happening there. I want to travel to Galena, because there are some nice things happening in Galena. MS: With so many in poverty here, and the unemployment rates is what it is, what can be done to help those in this particular area that are so impoverished? What can be done to break that cycle of poverty that you hear about a lot? SB: It’s true. Reduce the number of children in poverty is one of the five measurables I ran on, reducing that number. There’s three primary factors to a child being in poverty. There’s a Brookings Institute study, and I think most studies will cite the same thing. One’s education, one’s family structure, and one’s employment. It’s kind of what you’d think it’d be. If you’ve got an education, that helps keep you out of it. You’ve got a family structure, that keeps you out of it. You’ve got a job. And we’re working hard on the job creation piece of it. We’re working hard on the education piece of it, particularly early reading, 4th grade reading, and the tech ed. Those are the ones. We’ve brought Save the Children in here. We’ve piloted that here, and we want to take that much broader across the state, and that’s targeted at 4th grade reading. The other piece that we’ve really got to talk about sometime as a society is family structure. Because it ends up being one of the bigger pieces on poverty. You need more people in stable family structures, and that helps as one of the key pieces to helping keep children out of poverty. MS: What’s the government’s role in that, in helping create stable two-person families? SB: That’s the tough policy question. We as a society are kind of going, well, I don’t know if I really want to talk about that. But it is so critical. The government can, one of the big things we can look at is to at least not disincentivize family. Or at least not incentivize a structure that’s anti-, that discourages family formation. And we’re studying that now, we’ve got a child poverty task force in the Department of Children and Family, looking at this, really trying to talk through what it is we can do, because you can’t — a lot of it’s cultural, it’s what culture says. Culture’s more important than government. There I’m quoting Moynahan, not me. That’s Sen. Moynahan’s quote. It’s a touchy, difficult subject, but it’s really important. MS: One of the phrases you hear often when talking about the poverty issue is, “We want to give people a hand up, not a handout.” In what ways do you see Kansas providing that hand up to the impoverished, to those on free and reduced lunches, to those in this area who may have a job, but it may not pay enough to get them out of the poverty level? SB: I hope the technical training helps. I really do. I think that’s a big key. For one, I hope by getting more jobs into the area helps, so that wages become more competitive. So if you want somebody that’s pretty skilled, you’re going to have to pay more for them. Good. That’s what we want is a competitive wage environment. I’d love to see some of the aviation industry pieces migrate to this part of the state. Because those are high-wage, high-skill manufacturing. We’ve got the first couple of plants coming to the area — one’s in Chanute, one’s in Fredonia. The Fredonia one, I’m told, is really going well. I think the Chanute one’s doing pretty well, too. I don’t know on it, but that’s a great industry, and if we could get pieces of that to migrate here that ties in to Wichita, I think that’s a nice tie-in for the area. MS: And if you do that, then you have to tie in more of the transportation, to build up U.S. 400, but that’s a whole long way down the road. SB: You want efficient systems. But Independence opening up that Cessna plant’s been fabulous. Now general aviation has literal ups and downs, so they experience that there, but these last two plants are tied into commercial aviation — bigger jets — and that’s been a more stable market.
Page 4 of 5 - Taxes/Budget
MS: You mention tax cuts. I know businesses have been moving from the Missouri side to the Kansas side in Kansas City. Here in the southeast part of the state, we haven’t seen any of that. SB: You have in Galena. MS: Here in Crawford County, we haven’t seen any of that. Are you worried that — and I know Missouri’s pursuing a similar bill, that didn’t pass this legislative session, I think it was vetoed... SB: They have a veto session coming up. MS: Right. It’s being bandied about in Missouri. Are you worried about the two states getting into a sort of “arms race” about tax cuts, that eventually you’ll get to a point where you can’t go any lower, and there’s no incentive to go to one side or the other? SB: We’ll get more jobs and employment in the region. We’re losing to Texas now. Texas isn’t that far away. And I am just tired of losing that. We’ve got 30 years of data of being a high-tech state in the region and us losing people to every neighboring state but Nebraska. We’ve got to fight back on this. Missouri has to choose its own course. We could have stayed on the path we were on, and that would have been the easier political thing to have done. But I can tell you where that path is leading to. We’ve been on it for 30 years, and we’ve gone from the 27th most populous state to the 32nd most populous state over that period of time. We’ve gone from six Congressional districts to four, and heading to three, if we don’t turn this trend line around. Missouri just lost a congressional seat this time and we’re way too close to losing another one. So we can stay on the old path, we can do that. I don’t think that’s responsible to leadership to stay on a slow glide path down. I don’t know of anyone that hires a CEO or a coach to manage slow decline. And I don’t think we should do it here, either. There are difficulties with doing it. Any time you make change, that’s difficult. But the path we were on is not working. And we had 30 years of data to show it. So why would we want to stay on that path, other than it’s comfortable? And people can dispute and say, “Well, you should have done this, or you should have done that.” That generally wasn’t the discussion. The discussion was, well, I’m just opposed to it, because I’m comfortable where I am. And that could have taken place.
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