The challenge before the Kansas Legislature is abundantly clear: our budget is in crisis. Repeatedly, we hear the claim that “across the board” budget cuts are the most effective response to our financial woes. This position, however, is deeply flawed. Although across the board cuts are an easy way to maneuver the budget process, they are a lazy and irresponsible way to solve our financial problems.
When forced to cut back in our own household budgets, we prioritize. We go through our family budget with a magnifying glass to eliminate expenses everywhere possible, starting with the most expendable items. We do not slash our mortgage payment and vacation money equally. We understand that if we can’t afford the mortgage then the vacation must wait until next year.
As stewards of taxpayer dollars, we must apply this same approach to the Kansas budget. Our schoolchildren and our most vulnerable citizens that depend on minimal state services do not carry equal weight to the ineffective state programs or unnecessary administrative costs hidden in certain state agencies. We must trim the budget with a scalpel, not a hatchet, if we want to maximize savings and minimize harm.
There is no such thing as an easy budget cut, especially during an economic downturn. Yes, there must be reductions, but not reckless slashing. The Governor has offered a targeted and thoughtful budget recommendation that provides a pragmatic approach to prioritizing state expenses and investments.
Across the board cuts will have a severe impact on low income persons with mental illness who are served by state funded community mental health centers along with potentially kicking developmentally disabled Kansans out of critical home and community based service programs. Across the board cuts will also require us to abandon our promise to Kansas schoolchildren, cutting school funding and leaving our children ill-prepared for 21st century jobs. Our significant investment in the children of Kansas has been paying off. Our reading and math test scores are up and the improvement in ACT scores of Kansas high school students is among the highest in the nation. We must not turn our back on this crucial investment.
Our state has a heritage that should make everyone proud to be a Kansan. Whether it be Amelia Earhart taking flight across the Atlantic, Clyde Cessna and Walter Beech giving birth the aviation industry or Linda Brown and her family who went all the way to United States Supreme Court to seek justice and end segregated schools, Kansans have been at the forefront of what makes America great. None of these remarkable achievements was accomplished by taking the easy way out. Similarly, how we address the 2009 budget crisis is more than a statement of our fiscal philosophy, it is a reflection of our resolve to do what is right by those who are counting on us. This is not the time to back down.
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