TOPEKA, Kan. — Outgoing Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback says the state’s prisons, hospitals and other facilities are in disrepair after years of underfunding.
Brownback, who was stepping down Wednesday to become U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, raised concerns last week after the State Finance Council approved a 20-year, $360 million building project at Lansing Correctional Facility, The Kansas City Star reports.
“Getting this new prison built is a big deal,” Brownback, who became governor in 2011, told reporters. “We’ve got a series of state assets that have been underfunded for years.”
The state’s psychiatric facility in Osawatomie just regained its federal Medicare certification last month after a nearly two-year process that required the state to make a slew of updates. Brownback described it as a “pit” and said that a state hospital and training center for the developmentally disabled in Parsons is “worse.”
Brownback pushed back on the suggestion that he had responsibility for the underfunding.
“For 155 years? No,” said Brownback. Kansas marked its 157th year of statehood Monday.
Pressed again on the fact that he had been governor for seven years, Brownback replied, “And we got a new prison, didn’t we?”
State Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat running for governor, and others repeatedly pointed to Brownback’s tax cuts, which the Legislature rescinded last year in the face of a budget hole, as the reason the state could not keep up facilities. She called Brownback’s comments “insulting to our staff who work in those facilities . under some dire conditions.”
State Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican who chairs the Senate budget committee, noted that Brownback’s budget recommendations for the state hospitals for both the current and previous budget years was tens of millions of dollars less than the hospitals had requested.
“We need to look at repairing what will last for the next 50 years, tear down what won’t and invest in new facilities if needed,” McGinn said in an email.
Robert Choromanski, the executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, the union that represents state workers, said Brownback is “obviously responsible” and “obviously let those facilities deteriorate.”
Before taking the oath of office, incoming Gov. Jeff Colyer issued a statement through his spokesman that he “believes that it is time to make smart investments in our infrastructure.”
“But, like most things, it matters more how you spend the money than the total dollars spent,” said Kendall Marr, a spokesman for Colyer.
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com