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Eagle editorial: A state of takers

  • Published Friday, April 19, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Though many Kansans like to complain about federal spending, they may not realize, or won’t admit, how dependent our state is on that spending. If they are serious about wanting smaller government, they will have to share the pain of spending cuts.

A Kansas City Star investigation published in the Sunday Eagle highlighted Sumner County, just south of Wichita. It noted how the direct federal benefits that the county’s 24,000 residents received in 2010 were 40 to 50 percent more, on average, than what they paid in federal taxes.

The largest spending was on Social Security and Medicare, but federal funding also went for farm subsidies, Medicaid, food stamps, school lunches, economic development, aviation improvements and many other programs and projects that support the county’s citizens and economy. And this doesn’t include noncash federal benefits, such as tax breaks for health insurance or mortgage interest.

Sumner County is not unique. In fact, the Star chose it because it was typical of most of rural America, and federal expenditures there fell within expected ranges. Sedgwick County actually topped the state in receiving the most federal spending – $4.6 billion in 2010. Statewide, Kansas receives about $1.12 in federal spending for every tax dollar paid.

Yet many Kansans don’t think of their state or themselves as “takers.”

“People don’t connect the dots,” Shelley Hansel-Williams, executive director of the Wellington Area Chamber of Commerce, told the Star.

This is particularly the case with Social Security. Many senior citizens resent the term “entitlement,” arguing that they are merely getting back what they paid in during a lifetime of working. But Social Security taxes don’t go into an account that is saved for when you retire. Rather, the taxes you pay now help pay for people who are already retired. And most senior citizens receive far more in benefits than they contributed in taxes.

Even modest changes to Social Security, such as President Obama’s proposal to slow the inflation rate on benefits, are met with fierce opposition.

The nation’s budget problem is serious and will require spending cuts, entitlement reforms and more tax revenue. A first step to meeting this challenge is recognizing how much we benefit from federal spending, and how we all need to be part of the solution.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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