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Joan Wagnon: More prairie fairy tales

  • Published Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Thanks to the excellent reporting of Dion Lefler and The Eagle, the public can now see that the fairy tale of accomplishments and promises Gov. Sam Brownback has spun for the past two years is full of holes and untruths.

The Eagle dug into Brownback’s claim that state spending has dropped nearly $2 billion since 2010 and found that the numbers just didn’t add up. A chart that Brownback has used in presentations around the state wrongly said that state spending had peaked at $16 billion under Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson. The truth: State spending under Parkinson was only $14.04 billion. What’s more, state spending under Brownback is higher than the day Parkinson left office.

The distortions don’t end there, though. The Eagle has also debunked erroneous figures on state education spending, reading proficiency statistics, and potential savings of the proposed Kansas Turnpike merger.

For eight years I served as secretary of revenue under Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Parkinson. Those eight years were bookended by two recessions – one caused by Sept. 11 and the other when the housing bubble burst and the stock market crashed late in 2008. Brownback likes to refer to that time period as “the lost decade” when in fact that characterization is another untruth. In those middle years, Kansas saw growth in jobs and its revenues. The numbers of state employees steadily decreased while state government maintained quality services for Kansans.

The State of the State speech last month painted a “prairie fairy tale” of increased prosperity, smaller government, lower taxes and no cuts to public education. The assumptions on which those projections were based are as suspect as the “fuzzy math” being used by the Brownback administration to tout its successes and to justify its programs.

So, whose numbers can we trust?

The Kansas Legislative Research Department has been giving out unbiased information since it was created in the 1930s. Its latest budget projections show the tax plan being considered by the Legislature will create a $700 million hole in the budget. Since our constitution requires a balanced budget, the Legislature would be forced to cut programs. K-12 and higher education constitute more than 60 percent of the budget, so cuts to schools are inevitable.

Citizens have neither the time nor the information to validate every claim by this administration. Thank heavens for astute reporters and newspapers that are willing to investigate the veracity of our public officials and show the people the naked truth.

Joan Wagnon of Topeka is chairwoman of the Kansas Democratic Party.

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