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Eagle editorial: Listen to Kansas Speaks

  • Published Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, at 12 a.m.

Legislators and Gov. Sam Brownback ought to spend some time with the 2012 Kansas Speaks survey, which finds Kansans happier with their state than with their state government.

The Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University has released the scientific survey of what Kansans think about important issues annually since 2009. In a state in which publicly available scientific polling is scant, the survey offers an instructive take on where Kansans stand.

This year’s feedback from a survey of 928 Kansans, as previewed in an insert in the Sunday Eagle, sends a conflicting message about state spending, with half of Kansans wanting to see it decreased overall but significant support for increasing funding for specific priorities. State leaders will need to reconcile the two views, while dealing with the revenue shortfalls forecast as the new income-tax cuts kick in.

Among the interesting findings:

•  86.7 percent of Kansans view the state as a good or better place to live, while nearly 60 percent take a dim view of their state government.

•  About as many (40 percent) are satisfied as dissatisfied with Brownback’s performance, though a sizable 27.5 percent are very dissatisfied.

•  30 percent are satisfied by the Legislature’s performance – no surprise given the session’s fights over redistricting, tax cuts and more.

•  37 percent are satisfied with the efforts of the governor and GOP legislative leaders to help the economy – part of what the survey’s authors see as underwhelming support for the huge income-tax cuts.

Most instructive is what the survey says Kansans want going forward:

•  Nearly 58 percent want increased funding for K-12 schools (about the same as last year), and only 8 percent want to see schools cut.

•  47 percent want to see more money for social services, while 35.3 percent call for better funding of higher education.

•  Nearly 50 percent consider it extremely important to devote resources to developing wind energy – less than last year but still strong support at odds with the push by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and others to end tax incentives for wind.

The taxation numbers should give state leaders further food for thought.

Support is strong (52.2 percent) for cutting property taxes, with less interest in cutting income taxes (34.7 percent) and sales tax (30.3 percent). Given that property taxes remain the taxes Kansans love to hate, it will be tragic if the income-tax cuts at the state level force school districts, cities and counties to raise property taxes. But Brownback and lawmakers could find justification in the survey for deciding not to reduce the statewide sales-tax rate next summer after all; 48 percent say it should remain as is.

Surprisingly for this fiscally conservative state, 55.8 and 57.7 percent favor raising taxes on top earners and large corporations, respectively, while 51.5 percent think taxes should be cut for small businesses.

It’s sobering that for three years running, about 70 percent of Kansans have been moderately or very concerned that the economy will threaten their family’s welfare.

More than just about anything, Kansans want things to get better. Though that remains a tall order, dependent on both the national election results and the global economy, state leaders should take Kansans’ wish as their command.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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