A recent article from the Scott City Paper sums up the challenges facing the state of Kansas and our current budget crisis. I'll try to post interesting articles on my website periodically.
Published in the Scott County Record on Jul. 14, 2016.
Ignorance no longer an excuse
By Rod Haxton, editor
It’s that time when many communities turn their thoughts to county fairs, livestock shows, carnivals and who can grow the largest zucchini.
That’s the beauty of living in a rural community. In between demolition derbies and watching youngsters chase after pigs, who has time to think about Republican lawmakers in Topeka and their never-ending battle with the Kansas Supreme Court?
Who wants to? The answer to that question is we all should.
In between the county fair and a summer vacation before the start of school is a little thing known as a primary election. This could be one of the most important elections in recent memory - perhaps in our lifetime - in terms of how it will impact our communities, our schools and a way of life for the next generation of Kansans.
This isn’t hyperbole.
It was during the primary election of 2012 that Gov. Sam Brownback and his ultraconservative lackeys were able to purge the legislature of moderate Republican voices such as Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton) and Sen. Ruth Teichman (R-Stafford). Of 13 Senate Republicans who carried the “moderate” label - several of whom probably weren’t all that moderate - nine were defeated by Koch-funded political action groups who saw an opportunity for Kansas politics to take a hard right turn.
What we got in return was the likes of Sen. Larry Powell and Sen. Mitch Holmes who have followed the dogma of ultraconservative politics while ignoring the impact on schools, early childhood programs and other cuts in state funding that affect their rural communities.
The result has been a steady, and undeniable, decline in Kansas over the last four years.
It began with a major tax cut because, as we should know by now, ultraconservatives religiously cling to the belief that every tax dollar collected is one too many. Of course, we were promised that tax cuts would result in business growth, more jobs and more revenue (sound familiar?).
The Kansas “experiment” was finally going to reverse more than 30 years of failed trickle-down economics.
Of course, that didn’t happen.
Not that it really mattered to ultraconservatives because this failure has allowed them to pursue their other religious principal of reducing government. That becomes amazingly simple when your state is going broke.
It began with the poor because they’re always easy targets. They don’t have lobbyists in Topeka representing their interests and it’s easy for people to buy into the claims that, when given the opportunity, the poor like easy access to ATM machines outside of casinos (so limit them to $25 withdrawals) and they’re often booking cruises to the Bahamas.
It’s also easy to reduce Medicaid reimbursement to hospitals and doctors (surely they can afford it), cut funding to in-home services that help our elderly (no one will notice) and steal millions and millions of dollars for early-childhood programs in the state (they’re too young to vote anyway).
Which leads to public education.
College students and their parents are picking up the tab for higher tuition costs as the legislature continues to reduce funding for our major universities. But, that’s okay because it’s not really a tax increase.
In addition, ultraconservatives are undermining the quality of education in every Kansas community by forcing schools to live within unrealistic budget constraints with block grant funding. Schools must continue day-to-day operations, hire and retain staff and provide a quality education with financing that is frozen for three years while lawmakers supposedly try to arrive at a better school finance plan.
Like that’s really going to happen.
We’d like to say that the ultimate goal of these ultraconservative lawmakers has been to use the school funding debacle to set up a showdown with the Supreme Court, convince Kansans that the courts are “overreaching” in their demands to adequately fund our schools and, ultimately, set up a system that allows an ultraconservative governor and fellow lawmakers to stack the Supreme Court with Justices more to their liking.
We don’t think ultraconservatives are that clever.
But, that’s exactly where we find ourselves. And it all goes back to 2012.
Ultraconservatives in the legislature and the Koch-funded machine saw an opportunity for a change in Kansas and they seized it. They did it by outspending their opponents and by making outrageous and false claims that, apparently, were effective with an uninformed public.
Four years later, ignorance is no longer an excuse.
We’ve had ample time to measure the failures of the Brownback Administration and the Republican leadership in our legislature. They have chosen to take us down a bleak path that underfunds our schools and our infrastructure. Because of their policies we are putting at risk our children, our elderly and the poorest among us.
Rather than accepting responsibility for their policy failures, ultraconservatives blame everyone and everything else. All they need is a little more time.
We’re out of time. We can’t afford to travel down this same path for two more years.
In between county fairs and vacation plans, get informed. The August primary will not only impact what happens in Kansas over the next two years, but well beyond.
Believe it or not, who you vote for in the primary will be even more important than that giant zucchini you’re planning to enter in the Fair.
Rod Haxton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org