By John Celock
A Wichita businessman who entered the Kansas governor’s race Wednesday is stressing that he wants to bring his private sector background to state government and not build a political career.
Wink Hartman is stressing that he believes his background can allow him to govern differently from career politicians who he said have caused a “dimming” of the future prospects for the state. Hartman, a Republican, said he is focused on straightening out the state’s budget situation, economic development and school finance, noting that he wants to build a future in the state for his grandchildren.
“The reality is I am, for decades, a small businessman and not a politician,” Hartman told The Celock Report shortly after announcing his candidacy Wednesday. “I am not trying to build me a future in politics. I am in the governor’s race to hopefully win and get Kansas back on the right track.”
Hartman outlined a plan that would have the state government running like a business, including finding ways to fix a structural deficit in the state budget. With the state facing a current fiscal year shortfall of $346 million and projected multimillion dollar budget deficits for the next two fiscal years, Hartman said that the financial situation needs to be addressed.
With the state House of Representatives voting Wednesday to advance the bill that would include repeal of several of the 2012 tax cuts and a retroactive tax hike dating from January, Hartman said he did not know if a large tax hike was the response to the state’s fiscal woes. He noted that the tax plan approved by the state House would cause a tax hike of 11 percent on low income earners. Supporters of the tax plan have said that it would plug the state’s fiscal hole.
Hartman said he wants to focus on the spending side of the ledger book to start, pledging a “top to bottom review” of state spending and government operations. He said that he would look to eliminate or merge “anything that doesn’t bring value to the state.”
A starting point for Hartman’s budget review with the Alvarez and Marsal government efficiency study that the state Legislature commissioned in 2015 and had delivered last year. The study, which cost the state $2.6 million, including 105 recommendations that the consulting firm said could save the state $2.04 billion over five years. Among the recommendations were procurement reform, a consolidation of IT functions and changes to state leasing, printing and labor operations.
Hartman said that a review of the A&M study was needed to see what could be implemented. At the same time he noted that one part of state government was not included in the report.
“The problem is that the Legislature left themselves out of this great document. They did not include themselves,” Hartman said. “There are some good values in there. There is a $600 million value in education in 10 years. I am not saying that you should go ABC through the report and cut education. There are savings if you use the report.”
Lawmakers have implemented several of the recommendations, while others have been implemented through executive action. Other recommendations – including a proposal to have school districts do purchasing through a state pool – were defeated by lawmakers. Lawmakers are reviewing the education procurement plan again, along with a proposal to merge teachers into the state health insurance pool. Both proposals have been opposition by the education lobby.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Troy Waymaster (R-Russell) has made the A&M study a priority this year, tasking Appropriations Committee Vice Chairwoman Erin Davis (R-Olathe) with leading the House budget committee chairs in a review of all the recommendations.
Hartman said the key is to balance out the budget, noting that spending has not matched the revenue cuts that came from the 2012 tax cuts.
“Our career politicians have increased spending $686 million,” he said. “We cannot continue to have deficit spending with no revenue. We are digging a hole deeper and deeper.”
With state lawmakers seeking to write a new school funding law this year, and address a likely state Supreme Court ruling to boost state education funding for adequacy, Hartman said that education needs to be addressed quickly. He said he wants to see the block grant program – which lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback (R) implemented in 2015 – repealed and moved back to a funding formula, noting that the block grants are not working.
He also said he hopes to see a decision from the Supreme Court on the adequacy portion of the school finance lawsuit come quickly. He said he hopes to see a ruling on adequacy solve the long running school finance litigation, saying that stability is needed in education.
Hartman did not outline what he believes should be in a school finance formula, but noted that he wants to see money reach classrooms.
“The goal is educate the kids not pay bigger salaries to the superintendents,” Hartman said. ”I want to see the money hit the desktops. That’s where the money needs to be where the students learn.”
Hartman identified economic development as a key part of his platform, noting that he would like to see the state Department of Commerce and state leaders be more proactive in recruiting business to the state. He noted that in his business career he has gone out and worked to seek out business opportunities and that would be similar to how he sees the state bringing business to the state. He said that while the Department of Commerce has several functions, he believes business recruitment should be the top priority.
“Job growth in my way of thinking in the business world is people will not come to the doorbell of Kansas and say that they want to come to Great Bend with their business,” Hartman said. “The governor has to go out and ask for the business. You are not going to go and create jobs from the second floor of the Capitol in Topeka. You have to go out and ask people to come here.”
Hartman enters a field to replace the term limited Brownback that is beginning to take shape on the Republican side. Former state Rep. Ed O’Malley, leader of the Kansas Leadership Center, has formed an exploratory committee and is likely to formally enter the GOP contest. Potential GOP candidates include Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer and Senate President Susan Wagle. U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, who was viewed as a frontrunner on the Republican side, has announced that she would not seek the governorship next year. On the Democratic side, former state House Minority Leader Paul Davis, the party’s 2014 nominee, and former state Agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty are both considered potential candidates.
This is not Hartman’s first run for office. He unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for a Wichita area congressional seat in 2010.
Hartman stressed that he wanted to bring a new type of leadership to the state.
“I am not a politician, all I have done is create jobs.,” Hartman said. “The career politicians have been up to bat 10, 20 years at a time. It is time for a new type of leadership.”