Kansas legislators must stop singing sad songs as though
they were composed by someone else. Of course the House
and Senate face enormous challenges, most of them financial
and of their leaders’ own making. Add to this the ethical
and moral summons that beckon.
A budget deficit of $300 million or so remains. The
state’s $4 billion-plus debt yawns and compounds with
yearly interest in the hundreds of millions. The multi-billion
dollar fund for state highways, once the pride of Kansas,
has been siphoned dry. The public employees’ pension
fund is owed nearly $200 million, from last year and into
this year. And what’s happened with the $1 billion Gov.
Brownback so proudly tossed into the stock market 2ó
years ago, gambling on that eight percent return for the
employees’ pension? And a $500 million or $600 million
question remains for funding local schools, with the state|
Supreme Court expecting an answer late this spring. And
this only starts the list.
The ethical and moral obligations begin with expanding
Medicaid – with 90 percent federal aid – for the 100,000 or
so who can’t afford insurance or health care. This should
include returning social welfare services to government
management, rather than – as now with Medicaid – farming
them out at great cost to for-profit corporations that
donate heavily to political campaigns. The state may
need a new prison at Lansing or hospital at Osawatomie,
but they should be run by the government, not corporate
profiteers. Lawmakers should begin acting on their own,
rather than taking scripted legislation – and money – from
the Koch brothers or their Americans for Prosperity think
tanks, including the oddly-named Kansas Chamber of
Resolving the sordid connections among public officials
and private interests may take a generation or two,
if ever. But the hangover from the financial sins of Gov.
Brownback and his Republican allies demands more rigorous
attention. Elections two years ago sent some new legislators
to Topeka, enough to inspire a coalition of progressives
to override the governor and begin a long recovery.
Much more of this work is needed. The corrections last year
were not a tax increase but a tax recovery, re-starting the
revenue stream that Brownback and Company had sought
to destroy with their Glide Path to Zero income taxes for the
rich and select businesses.
The hard work of reconciliation cannot be managed
through election-year wailing about taxes. It must come
with forward and creative thinking. The Congress, for
example, has provided a generous gift of massive federal
tax cuts. A bonehead act, to be sure, but one that may be
seen as a windfall for Kansas – a flurry of new federal
relief to be captured for the state at no overall net cost to
the taxpayer. Put another way: What we’re not paying to
Washington can be sent to Topeka, invested locally. Surely
state legislators will embrace this benefit.
Again a tax recovery, not an increase.
‒ JOHN MARSHALL