On a recent late afternoon the sudden shriek of a siren shocked us in mid-step as we reached the doors at the Lindsborg Post Office. We turned to see a police car wailing, lights flashing, engine growling, speeding up Lincoln Street, slowing at Main, and heading west.
Something serious, but what? When it comes to sirens, a newspaperman never retires. In another time and other cities they signaled action, interest, the possibility of headlines, events cloaked often in misfortune or tragedy. Sirens are not about good news. These days in a small town, sirens too often are about people we know, people in distress of one kind or another.
Sirens tell us that someone is in trouble, but help is coming.
Then came another siren, and another ‒ the raspy growl of an ambulance, the horn on a fire truck, one after the other heading west on Lincoln.
We later learned that the noise and rush was indeed about someone we knew. A good friend had been struck by a car in the hospital parking lot. He is recovering.
HUNDREDS OF emergency vehicles, including national guard helicopters, rushed to south central Kansas and into Oklahoma last week to battle a wildfire that had started March 29 in
Oklahoma and scorched nearly half a million acres across several counties in both states. Countless livestock and wildlife perished, homes were destroyed and ranchland turned to a vast sweep of smoldering earth. Recovery for the land, the farms and ranches, the people who lived on them and the towns that supported them, will be a long and grinding process. Fortunately, no people died.
After the sirens and after the work of hundreds of firefighters and supporting volunteers, local, state and federal authorities will begin to offer help. Emergency services are a function of our government. We can have help whether we are able to ask for it, or afford it, or not.
Government is composed of many institutions, among them schools, the courts, the law, police, regulators, bureaucracies and more. They are pillars of our standard of living. Government cannot be “privatized,” forced to honor certain shareholder interests or the stock option portfolios of board members and the CEO, not while it is a viable, equitable public service. We share the costs, pay the taxes, and through our elected councils and commissions we hire the managers for agencies that deliver our clean water, our gas and electricity and maintain our streets, roads and bridges, keep our parks beautiful and the landscape presentable. Through local and state agencies we manage the taxes and funds that aid our libraries, hospitals, airports, and what’s left of the train stations.
These foundations may be complex and at times frustrating, but they are indispensable. Government, laws and taxes may be a burden, but they are bases for our civilization.
WE DON’T need to go to Washington to see the current damage inflicted on our government. Topeka is hard at work dismantling our system of public education, from local schools through colleges and universities. State agencies and programs (from the Departments of Transportation and Social Services to the Children’s Initiatives Fund, Wildlife and Parks, state lottery, and many others) have been stripped of billions to finance the governor’s Glide Path to Zero, his plan to abolish income taxes for “small” business and the wealthy.
From the earliest settlements on this continent, government has been a collaborative effort to help citizens have better lives.
Taxes on property, income and sales were a shared effort to provide roads and bridges, ensure public safety, clean air and water, disposal of waste, and power and light for homes and businesses, among other basics.
And today? Zero income taxes, zero-down the budget, zero in on public services. Add it up and it comes to zero on the scale of living. Without state support for the things that make life more livable, or even tolerable, such as better roads, safer streets, cleaner communities, not to mention the luxuries of parks, health care and decent schools, we haven’t much of a state. And when people don’t have much of a state, they haven’t much reason to stay in it, let alone move to it.
The governor’s Glide Path prompts a question: What kind of place is Kansas, and what would it become?
It is a place near breakdown, near that disconnect with true government, when dialing for help leaves us with a computer that puts us on hold, or a friend laid flat in a hospital parking lot with no one to help him up.