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Thursday, May 15, 2014
What's wrong with Kansas (guest post)
LJ WORLD: Opinion: Something’s wrong in Kansas
MAY 09, 2014
This year’s legislative session has come to a fitting end. Revenues in April fell substantially from those that had been projected; Moody’s bond rating service downgraded Kansas bonds, making it more expensive for the state to borrow in the future; the governor blamed the revenue shortfalls on the Obama administration’s fiscal policies; and the honorable members of the Kansas House and Senate approved the budget in spite of the shortfalls with several members stating that they would deal with any problems “next year.”
I am surprised that they weren’t playing Jimmy Buffet songs while they voted and that none of them made a public statement quoting the famous economic maxim “Don’t worry; be happy.” To quote William Allen White, “What’s the matter with Kansas?”
This past legislative session has made it clear that any proper sense of responsibility, fiscal otherwise, has left the capitol building and taken up residence far from Kansas. When I was growing up and forming my own ideas about politics, a political “conservative” was someone who respected the status quo and who eschewed radical change. Republicans were known for their fiscal responsibility, as in Pat Nixon’s venerable “cloth coat.” Senator Dole was known for his willingness and ability to make compromises “across the aisle” in order to ensure that government did its job of serving the people.
This is not what is going on in Topeka any longer. Instead we have legislators who believe that fiscal prudence means only one thing: cutting taxes no matter what the effect on institutions of government and on the public. Our legislators no longer seem to care about facts. Important legislation, like the school finance bill, included radical changes to teacher job security without any serious attempt at fact-gathering or public hearings. Our court system’s funding structures were radically altered, again without fact-gathering or adequate hearings and, very possibly, in contravention of the Kansas Constitution. And, of course, a budget based on inaccurate assumptions and bad economics was passed that very well may not work in six months requiring debilitating interim cuts in state agency budgets. But it’s OK; don’t worry, be happy.
If I sound rather angry, that’s because I am. The business of government is serious. The lives and welfare of Kansans depend upon the actions of the Legislature. Legislators hold office in trust, to serve the people. Legislators bear a heavy burden of responsibility, or at least they should. I have come to believe that a majority of the present Legislature does not care about their responsibilities to the people of Kansas.
Ideology has replaced politics. Ideology has replaced sound economic and fiscal policy. Ideology has replaced common sense. And the people of Kansas let this continue to happen. When will it end? What, indeed, is the matter with Kansas? I think, perhaps, it is time once again to ask this question and to apply some measure of accountability to our elected officials who seem to think that they may do whatever they want without reasonable thought or public input or factual basis for their actions. If we wait much longer to recognize that our legislators are not conservatives, but, instead, are radicals determined to undermine and destroy the social compact under which we have lived for generations, then it may well be too late to save our state.
— Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.