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Barbara Shelly: Being too ‘like-minded’ with Texas has perils

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, at 12 a.m.

Everybody needs a sounding board from time to time, and governors are no exception.

But I’ve started to cringe when Gov. Sam Brownback says he’ll be “consulting with like-minded states.”

As a deadline for partnering with the federal government in a health insurance exchange drew near, Brownback’s office put out a statement saying that “we are discussing options and alternatives with like-minded states and with our legislative partners in Kansas.” The next day, Kansas participation in an insurance exchange was off the table.

Brownback hasn’t said yet whether he’ll recommend that Kansas expand its Medicaid eligibility threshold to the limits called for in the Affordable Care Act, but a statement from his office provides a clue: “We continue to discuss options and alternatives with like-minded states.”

Not sounding good.

I got to wondering which like-minded states these might be.

We can scratch the 20 states with Democratic governors and the one state (Rhode Island) whose governor is an independent. It seems unlikely that Brownback, a conservative Republican, would be consulting with their governors.

Also out of contention are Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico, Iowa and Mississippi. Those are states with Republican governors who decided that because federal bureaucrats intend to create health insurance marketplaces in all 50 states, it makes sense to work with them. In some places that kind of thinking is known as logic, but it’s out of sync with Brownback’s Kansas.

That leaves 24 states that may or may not be like-minded with Kansas. But of one there is no doubt.

Texas.

Brownback has made no secret of his admiration for the Lone Star State and its Republican governor, Rick Perry. He was an early supporter of Perry’s ill-fated presidential bid.

Texas has no income tax. Brownback wants to get rid of Kansas’ income tax.

Texas is among the four states that have refused to participate in the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core standards, which are benchmarks in reading and math meant to help students in each state be ready for college and careers.

Kansas signed on to the Common Core under a previous administration. But Brownback and some legislators are questioning them. Recently, Brownback refused to sign a letter of support for the Topeka school district’s effort to secure a federal education grant.

Needless to say, Perry despises the Affordable Care Act.

Brownback does, too.

Brownback likes to tout job growth in Texas and its supposedly booming business climate. But there are perils to being too like-minded with the Lone Star State.

Last year, Texas ranked 47th in the nation in literacy. Its verbal SAT scores were 49th in the nation. Its students’ performance in math was fourth from the bottom.

A recent report showed 27 percent of Texans are without health care, the highest rate in the nation.

Texas is also worst among the states in five categories of air pollution.

When Brownback talks about like-minded states, Kansans can assume one place he’s looking is south. But they should hope he’s not like-minded enough with Texas and its governor to put defiance of Washington ahead of the welfare of the citizens.

Barbara Shelly is a columnist with the Kansas City Star.

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