Wichita State University professor Ed Flentje sharply criticized the policies of Gov. Sam Brownback during a speech Monday at the Arkansas City Rotary Club.
Flentje, a political science professor at the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs at Wichita State University, said Brownback and his supporters in the Kansas Legislature are guilty of “red-state radicalism.”
That was a reference to Brownback’s statement that Kansas is a model for “red-state governance,” according to Flentje.
The professor’s speech to the Rotary Club echoed previous statements made in his monthly newspaper column, which appears as part of the Kansas Insight series on Saturdays in the Traveler and the Courier.
Flentje, who worked for former governors Bob Bennett and Mike Hayden and former U.S. Sen. Jim Pearson — all Republicans, focused most of his comments on the state’s new tax policy that is moving toward eliminating the income tax.
Phasing out the income tax abandons 80 years of balanced tax policy, Flentje said, and already has pushed up the state sales tax and local property taxes.
“In my view, it’s throwing state finances in disarray,” Flentje told the large crowd gathered in the Wright Room at Cowley College’s Brown Center, which included more than a dozen guests at the luncheon. It also penalizes the poor, he added.
“We are shifting the tax burden from those on higher incomes to those on lower incomes,” Flentje said.
Reducing income taxes also has reduced revenues for services such as education, mental health and the disabled, Flentje said.
Most egregious, he warned, was the state’s borrowing more than $400 million to balance its budget and using a 20-year time frame to pay that back.
“I think it’s a horrible way to conduct financial stewardship,” Flentje said.
The state also has taken on a “radical approach in social intervention,” he added, mentioning further restrictions on abortion, limits on birth-control access, and proposed laws to restrict divorce and allow discrimination against gays and gay couples.
When told of Flentje’s criticisms, Brownback spokesperson Eileen Hawley emailed this response:
“The Kansas economy continues to grow. Revenue has consistently exceeded expectations and we finished last year with a $709 million balance. Kansas is experiencing its lowest unemployment rate since 2008, at 4.9 percent, and we have added more than 10,000 jobs for the second consecutive year.”
Although he worked for former Republican officials, Flentje said the GOP has changed.
Conservatives, including Brownback, who now lead the party, are willing to campaign against moderate Republicans to carry out their “extreme” agenda, Flentje said.
“I’m not sure those in charge of the party today would claim me,” he said. “And I don’t think they would claim the people I worked for.”
Rotary member Bill Docking, of Union State Bank, said it was refreshing to hear another view from someone who is a Republican.
“I believe in moderation, and Kansas has a long tradition of moderation,” said Docking, whose sister-in-law, Jill Docking, is running for lieutenant governor as a Democrat.
Flentje, a graduate of Emporia State University and the University of Kansas, also spoke about his ties to Cowley County.
The Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs has helped to train many city managers, including Arkansas City’s Nick Hernandez.
Flentje said he consulted with former Cowley County commissioners Margie Berrie and Dick Bonfy, which eventually led to the commission’s hiring the county’s first administrator in 2003.