Burdett Loomis: Observations on GOP sweep, taxes

12/12/2010 12:00 AM

12/12/2010 12:18 AM

A month ago, Kansans were still trying to sort out the implications of the GOP sweep of state offices and congressional seats, as well as the decline to irrelevancy of Democrats in the Statehouse. A month from now, Gov.-elect Sam Brownback and his team will be in office, and the outlines of an agenda will be on the table. But before we get too caught up in the matters of the moment, a few observations are in order:

* The GOP's across-the-board landslide in Kansas was far more a national phenomenon than a state one. My bet is that no Democrat would have won, with the possible exception of Attorney General Steve Six, even if the Republican opponents had not spent a cent.

* Because this was a national blowout, Republicans should be careful about claiming a mandate. Of course, Secretary of State-elect Kris Kobach already has done so. Get real. No secretary of state has ever received a mandate to do anything. Governors may get mandates on rare occasions. Down-ballot state officials get to ride along.

* Not to be too cute, but just what is the matter with Kansas? Our unemployment rate, while too high, is 3 1/2 percentage points below the national average. Our roads are good. Our tax code, while scarcely perfect, is reasonably balanced. Could it use some tinkering? Sure. Wholesale change? Why?

The most straightforward answer is that the Kochs, Americans for Prosperity (do I repeat myself?) and other wealthy interests don't like income taxes.

* At the national level, in other states and historically in Kansas, budget directors have been technicians who have provided data, given neutral advice and (to be fair) tinkered at the edges of state policy to carry out the governor's wishes. But Brownback has named an ideologue to head up the budget office. Steve Anderson's background at Americans for Prosperity and his broadside attacks on public education make him an advocate for extensive changes that the facts about Kansas education do not warrant.

Does he still believe that local school boards have $2 billion squirreled away that could easily be used to alleviate our budget woes? Moreover, some issues don't have easy ideological fixes, such as the gaping, multibillion-dollar shortfall in obligations — yes, obligations — to tens of thousands of employees and retirees in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.

* In Kansas and in many other states, we're going to witness the impact of federalism in our system of government. And while I may not like the immediate results, I await with bated breath the different ways in which states will address budget deficits, implementation of health care reform, approaches to public education, costly prison populations and dozens of other vexing issues. A new generation of GOP governors will have to deal with federal incentives and mandates, even as they seek new, conservative ways to do business.

As a citizen, I'm concerned — worried even. As a scholar, I'm fascinated. And so it goes.

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