Last year, Gov. Sam Brownback went on national television and boasted that he was leading Kansas through “a real live experiment” in taxing and spending. Recent surveys suggest that Kansans are skeptical, if not downright opposed, to where Brownback is taking them.
Three statewide surveys rel-eased in October give a current reading of what Kansans think of Brownback and his red-state strategy. Two were conducted by SurveyUSA for KWCH-TV in Wichita, and a third by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University.
These surveys indicate that the Brownback experi-ment is out of sync with what Kansans say they want on a number of measures. For example, Brownback promoted an increase in the state sales tax rate that was scheduled to drop, but four in five survey respondents believe the sales tax should remain the same or be decreased.
Brownback initiated cuts in state income tax rates. In contrast, two-thirds of Kansans surveyed believe income taxes should remain the same or be increased. Under Brownback’s income tax plan, those with higher-incomes receive the bigger tax cuts, and more than half of respondents half think taxes on top income earners should be increased.
The revenue shortfalls resulting from the Brownback tax experiment forced state lawmakers to cut spending for core state services, which also is out of line with most Kansans. For example, while two of every three Kansans surveyed think funding for K-12 schools should be increased, Brownback ap-proved spending reductions for school aid of $400 million to $500 million below t 2008 levels. The governor also approved multi-million dollar cuts in funding for colleges and state universities, yet according to the surveys, seven of eight Kansans say such funding should stay the same or be increased.
The Brownback administra-tion also initiated cuts in social services for the state’s most vulnerable residents, again in opposition to what Kansans say should be done. More than one-half of those surveyed say state funding for social services should be increased, compared to 6 percent who say such funding should be decreased. The rest say funding should remain the same.
With Brownback’s experiment so dramatically at odds with the preferences of Kansans, the governor’s job approval has plunged. When he took office in 2011, Kansans gave him an approval rating of 55 percent, but his ratings began to drop later that year when the first news of his grand experiment began to surface.
Last month, 58 percent of the Kansans surveyed disapproved of Brownback’s job performance, 10 percent higher than a year ago; 35 percent approved.
Fewer than one in four Kansans surveyed express a favorable opinion of Brownback, compared to nearly one-half who view him unfavorably, an extraordinarily low rating for an incumbent, especially one who has spent most of his 25-year government career in statewide elective office. The Fort Hays State University survey, conducted last summer before any opposing candidate had emerged, asked: “If the 2014 election were held today, would you vote for Sam Brownback for governor?” Fifty-six percent of those responding said no.
Historically, Kansas voters have been tough on their governors. Forty-one individuals have been elected to the office of governor, and all but Joan Finney sought re-election. However, 19 of those 40 were defeated in party conventions or in primary or general elect-ions.
In this predominantly Republican state, voters have also shown independence from partisan loyalties when electing a governor. In the last eight gubernatorial elections, voters favored four Democrats and four Republicans. In the last 19 voters chose 11 Democrats and eight Republicans.
While the real polls for governor come in the August and November elections of 2014, the recent surveys show Brownback faces a formidable task in convincing Kansans that his “real live experiment” with their future is sound.