TOPEKA, Kan. — Conservative Republican Kris Kobach is making tax cuts a cornerstone of his campaign for Kansas governor and publicly chiding GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer and other rivals for not joining him in signing a pledge not to increase taxes.
Kobach, who is currently Kansas secretary of state, is promising to push for lower income and sales tax rates and tighter controls on local property taxes a year after bipartisan supermajorities in the state Legislature rolled back past income tax cuts championed by former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. Last year's tax increase came after persistent budget woes soured many voters on Brownback's tax-cutting experiment.
Kobach's aggressive stance ahead of the Aug. 7 primary election demonstrates the enduring appeal of tax cuts for the GOP's conservative base even after Brownback's experiment caused other states to look at Kansas and take a more cautious approach on taxes.
Colyer, who was Brownback's lieutenant governor for seven years before Brownback resigned to take an ambassador's post, also promises to work with legislators to ease the tax burden without making specific promises and he questions Kobach's commitment to lowering taxes.
But Kobach argued Thursday that the mistake "the Brownback-Colyer administration" made was not cutting spending aggressively enough.
"When you cut taxes, you must also cut spending," Kobach said. "Colyer is spending like a drunken sailor."
Kansas expects the spending on general government programs and services financed with state tax dollars to rise 4.5 percent under its next annual budget. It's largely because the state plans to phase in a $548 million increase in funding for public schools over five years in response to a Kansas Supreme court mandate.
Campaign spokesman Kendall Marr pointed to Colyer's leading an overhaul of the state's Medicaid health coverage for the needy while he was lieutenant governor as an example of how Colyer helped Kansas control its spending.
And another Colyer aide, Kara Fullmer, dismissed Kobach's goading over the Americans for Tax Reform pledge that Kobach signed on April 17, the annual income tax filing deadline.
"Actions speak louder than words," Fullmer said.
She pointed to a vote Kobach made in 2000 as an Overland Park City Council member to boost the city's excise tax almost 21 percent. It's paid by developers on each square foot of land to help cover the cost of sewers and streets in new housing subdivisions.
Kobach called it a fee paid by a limited group and said raising it allowed the city to keep property taxes down for all home and business owners.
The other two major GOP candidates, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer and former state Sen. Jim Barnett, a Topeka physician, also have not signed the anti-tax pledge.
Barnett, appealing to moderate Republicans, predicted that Kobach's push for tax cuts would "tank the state's budget."
As for signing an anti-tax pledge, he said: "It would be reckless on the part of the governor to tie his or her hands."
Selzer said he would "lean in" on government costs and "focus on making Kansas grow."
"Kansas needs to grow or we'll never be able to adequately invest in the things we need at the state level," Selzer said.
Meanwhile, the three major Democratic candidates — ex-Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, state Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, and former state Agricultural Secretary Joshua Svaty — are attacking Brownback's fiscal legacy. They're attempting to tie Colyer to it and see Kobach as doubling down.