Sam Brownback, author of a fiscal calamity, rejects Medicaid on budget grounds

Tax giveaways to rich Kansans were fine and dandy, but health care for the poor must “have a neutral impact on the state budget.”

Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS). CREDIT: AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS). CREDIT: AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

Days after Kansas lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to expand Medicaid to 150,000 uninsured low-income residents, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) vetoed the bill on Thursday morning.

His lengthy veto statement presents the decision as grave and complicated. Yet to a half-trained eye, Brownback’s explanation gives away the game right up top. He lists three criteria any Medicaid expansion bill must meet to earn his signature, including that it “have a neutral impact on the state budget.”

At press time it was unclear if Brownback wrote that sentence with a straight face.

The governor’s concern for budget neutrality is convenient and new. Since being elected in 2010, Brownback has wrecked his state’s finances by pushing for, in his words, “a real, live experiment” with right-wing fantasy economics. He slashed state tax rates for the wealthiest Kansans and allowed anyone who can afford a decent accountant to sidestep income taxes entirely.

Conservatives hoped the moves would vindicate the old Reagan-era myth that drastic tax breaks for the wealthy will generate so much new economic activity that governments end up collecting roughly the same amount of revenue. It did not. Instead, Brownback far overshot the mark — and plunged Kansas into years of perpetual budget deficits.


Rather than walk back the tax policies, the governor and his allies spent years cutting public services across the state to cover the cost.

Those allegiances have frayed. Even before they joined Democrats to pass Medicaid expansion, Republican lawmakers collaborated on a tax bill reforming many of the worst elements of Brownback’s agenda. The governor vetoed that move too.

Medicaid expansion supporters are optimistic they can gather the five additional votes they need — three in the House and two in the Senate — to override Brownback’s Thursday veto. They have 30 days to corral the additional Republican votes, or the governor’s selective attention to fiscal responsibility will succeed in keeping tens of thousands of his constituents uninsured.