Written by Bob Sigman
Johnson County Sun
The Kansas wrecking crew – better known as Gov. Sam Brownback and his ultraconservative allies in the Kansas House – would, if not restrained, wreak havoc across the landscape of state government. Nothing seems immune.
Supposedly the purpose is to trim the budget and reduce the role of government, but substantive documentation on savings is starkly lacking. It is a capricious, slash-and-burn drill that is disruptive to agencies and programs that have long served the state well.
Many proposals by the Republican governor’s administration and the GOP-controlled House have been made far too hastily.
Such modifications should not be taken without careful study and data-driven information.
Legislation to eliminate the publicly elected Kansas Board of Education and the governor-appointed Board of Regents is a prime example. Their authority would be transferred to the governor. This is sweeping change that merits the views of both the public and expert counsel. At a minimum, a legislative-led interim study should be conducted.
There are other alarming items on the agenda. Among them is legislation to drastically change the tax structure, including individual income and corporate taxes.
Public education is a repeated target of both Brownback and House conservatives, even though polls show that taxpayers designate it a high priority,
When the Senate and House could not agree on reductions in the current budget in recent days – yes, they were still working on the budget that expires June 30 – Brownback stepped in.
Of the $56.5 million in cuts for nine agencies, he took $50.1 million from public schools and $2.3 million from public universities.
A recent news report told of the Brownback administration removing 14 of the 50 beds at the Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City, Kan. That means, according to local law enforcement authorities, that the mentally ill who encounter the law, including Johnson Countians served by the facility, could be confined in jail rather than receiving professional treatment at Rainbow.
Brownback supports a House-passed power grab for the governor. The bill would allow the chief executive to appoint Kansas Court of Appeals judges at-large, with confirmation by the Kansas Senate. That would politicize the system and eliminate the role of citizens in the nonpartisan judicial selection process. Kansas adopted the nonpartisan plan after a major scandal involving a Republican governor.
Wrongheaded is the best way to describe other House actions. The conservatives have been working to weaken the widely supported statewide smoking ban. A survey last year showed 77 percent of Kansans favor smoking restrictions.
Afoot too, is tinkering with the 2010 1-cent sales tax increase. If repealed, the current budget shortfall of about $500 million would soar close to $1 billion. Even Brownback opposes the repeal.
In that category, too, is legislation that would repeal Lexie’s law, a measure that provides urgently needed regulation of child care facilities. Along with these is legislation that would require high schools to pay colleges for remedial classes taken by their graduates.
There has been some push back.
The Senate rejected Brownback’s abolishment of the state arts program. Committees in both houses have restored all or nearly all of the funding for the Early Head Start program. Brownback had cut it by $11.3 million. The program would have been virtually eliminated in Johnson County.
If you believed Brownback during last year’s gubernatorial campaign, this session of the Legislature would be all about jobs for Kansans. This year is much more about uprooting well-established institutions in state government, along with a conservative agenda that includes abortion, immigration, voter identification and school vouchers.
Employment opportunities have been lost in the onrush.