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Eagle editorial: So much for local control

  • Published Friday, April 4, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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GOP legislators who actually believe in local control should be added to the threatened species list. There are fewer of them in Topeka than lesser prairie chickens on the Great Plains.

Local control used to be a foundational principle of Republicans. They believed – or at least they said they did – that, whenever possible, government decisions should be made at the local level, nearest to the people being governed.

But anymore, GOP lawmakers seem bent on taking authority away from local governments and passing unfunded mandates.

The Kansas Senate voted this week to prohibit cities and counties from having their own weapons regulations. It even prohibited local governments from using their own tax dollars for firearms-buyback programs.

City and county governments and universities strongly oppose the gun mandates, arguing that they know their local needs and should be the ones making these decisions. But the GOP-dominated Senate didn’t care – even rejecting amendments to allow local governments to regulate weapons in public libraries, community centers and mental-health centers.

State lawmakers know best.

Lawmakers also passed a bill to impose new voting requirements regarding local property taxes, and they may take away the mortgage registration fee, an important funding source of local governments. They even want to dictate when local governments can hold their own elections.

And, of course, many GOP lawmakers love to meddle in schools – whether trying to block Common Core standards or, per a House-passed bill this session, wanting schools to teach kids how to shake hands. All this while they still refuse to provide the statutorily required level of school funding.

Such meddling and mandates aren’t new. Since 2009, Sedgwick County has lost nearly $59 million in revenue because of new state laws and policy changes. County Commission Chairman Dave Unruh wrote recently that the county spends $150 million per year to provide services mandated by the state but receives only about 15 percent of the funding needed to pay for those programs.

What’s particularly hypocritical is that GOP state lawmakers regularly grouse about federal mandates and agitate about state rights. They’ve even considered arresting federal officials who try to enforce gun or wildlife laws.

“I hear the howls whenever Congress passes laws that change things here in Kansas, but that’s exactly how local governments see the Brownback administration and the Legislature,” noted Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan. “Every time we turn around, there’s another budget cut or bill from Topeka undermining the local control cities and counties have traditionally had in Kansas.”

Or as Unruh put it: “They have become like the ‘feds’ they so despise.”

How un-Republican of them.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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