Gov. Sam Brownback touched on a lot of topics Wednesday during his State of the State Address before a joint session of the Kansas Legislature. Perhaps of particular interest in Manhattan was his assertion that “Our universities are critical.”
He talked of “strategic investments” already made and more to come. And as was understandable given its significance in this community, statewide and even beyond, Gov. Brownback touted NBAF as “one of those investments that is bearing fruit already.” He declared that “Kansas will be the center of the global animal health industry for generations to come.”
That would be a most positive development.
Unfortunately, he said little else about higher education, other than to promise, “In my budget proposal I will continue to support our universities, community and technical colleges, and I am confident they will produce the next generation of Kansas leaders.”
We share the governor’s hope that higher education will produce the next generation of Kansas leaders. But if higher education were truly the priority the governor suggests it is — if it were as “critical” as the tax cuts that he and the Legislature have been committed to — universities and the students who attend them would be in far better shape.
Last year, the Legislature’s conservative majority’s obsession with tax cuts contributed to historic funding cuts to Kansas Board of Regents institutions for 2014 and 2015. Yes, the governor argued for a better outcome, but the reality is that funding for higher education wasn’t as important to him as tax cuts were.
He’s convinced that the massive tax cuts he’s pushed through will lead to greater prosperity throughout the state, benefiting not just corporations but families and communities large and small. He’s similarly convinced that the benefits will create employment opportunities for Kansans who cannot now find jobs and also help those Kansans who seek better lives through higher education.
The governor’s vision is impressive indeed. Unfortunately, it’s unclear when rank-and-file Kansans will reap the benefits of the tax cuts.
The most tangible impact of the tax cuts thus far has been to curtail the state’s revenue stream. That has resulted in cuts to numerous state programs and services; and that, in turn, has contributed to local tax increases statewide as communities work to offset state spending cuts.
Though we have our misgivings, perhaps the passage of more time will prove the governor right. During his speech Wednesday night, he sounded as convinced as ever.