Gov. Sam Brownback has kept an impressively public schedule, showing up all over Kansas for summits and other events. But his policymaking needs more transparency and less “trust us,” with more opportunities for Kansans to see and shape his planned transformations of tax policy, school finance, Medicaid, social services and more.
As it is, Kansans have heard only bits and pieces about the big changes said to be coming in time for the 2012 legislative session, with little information about whose ideas — and agendas — are fueling reforms including a reduction of individual and corporate income-tax rates; a new school-finance formula changing the base level of state support and enabling school districts to raise property and sales taxes; and a Medicaid overhaul to dramatically cut costs without cutting eligibility.
According to the Kansas Health Institute News Service, the administration also is working on a major reorganization of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services affecting programs for the physically and developmentally disabled and the elderly as well as mental health and substance abuse programs. The administration also has been less than forthright about its plans to promote marriage, including a closed-door brainstorming session in April with some out-of-state activists who hold extreme views.
In addition, Brownback acknowledged Friday that he had asked representatives of the giant investment and advisory firm Blackstone Group “for input” on how to reduce spending and improve efficiency. He said the state isn’t paying Blackstone — which, according to higher-education officials, is preparing a report for Brownback. Earlier, his office had told the Lawrence Journal-World that Blackstone hadn’t been hired to work on the governor’s behalf.
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And when the Journal-World recently asked for minutes, agendas and policy papers of the tax task force, which is being led by Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan and meeting behind closed doors, the Brownback administration said it may take until Nov. 30 to respond to the request.
Reagan economist Arthur Laffer is the only individual known to be involved outside of other administration officials and some GOP members of the House and Senate tax committees.
Brownback took issue Friday with the suggestion that his tax policymaking had been private, pointing to public meetings he’d had across the state. “This is not being developed clandestinely,” he said.
But as Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, recently said in announcing his own bipartisan tax-cutting advisory committee: “There are a lot of ideas being floated around, but what they all seem to be missing is citizen input. This isn’t something that should be done behind closed doors by a bunch of bureaucrats.”
Regarding the governor’s thinking on education, policy adviser Landon Fulmer recently said, “We believe excellence boils up from the bottom.”
If so, surely they also recognize that historic reforms aiming for excellence shouldn’t be cooked up in secret and imposed on the state from the top down.
With the 2010 election having left the Legislature rich with conservatives ready to implement Brownback’s sweeping agenda without much second-guessing, transparency and scrutiny are needed now.