Redesign government

Lawmakers often are quick to dismiss the quixotic proposals of state Sen. Chris Steineger, RKansas City, to reorganize state and local government. But given the state’s budget problems, they should start taking his ideas more seriously.

After all, why should Kansas government be forever locked into boundaries and structures that were set up in the horse-andwagon days?

Steineger’s proposal for reducing the size of the Legislature was reported recently in The Eagle. He wants to cut the House of Representatives from 125 members to 90 and the Senate from 40 to 30, changes he estimates would save the state about $2 million a year.

Several of his fellow lawmakers have pooh-poohed the idea and raised concerns about increasing the number of constituents per lawmaker. But among the 50 states, Kansas has the 17th largest Legislature but ranks only 33rd in population.

Other states have effective legislatures with fewer representatives. Why can’t Kansas? And given how many lawmakers campaign on reducing the size of government, why don’t they lead the way by downsizing their own branch?

“Talk is cheap,” Steineger said. “I’m trying to put words into action.”

Steineger’s boldest ideas involve redesigning local government. He said that when Kansas became a state 150 years ago, its 105 counties were laid out to ensure that courthouses were only about a day’s horseback ride away.

Steineger wants to start over with a blank sheet and drastically reduce the number of counties — to perhaps as few as 13. For example, Sedgwick, Butler, Sumner and Cowley counties might be merged into one new county.

That’s likely too ambitious. But it’s wise to reconsider whether some geographic boundaries still make sense and whether Kansas needs so much government.

Kansas has more units of local government (nearly 3,900) than all but four states. And those other states (California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Texas) have much, much larger populations.

Among those units of government are about 1,300 townships — nearly the same number as the state had in 1930, even though the percentage of population in rural areas has dropped by more than half. Kansas also has nearly 700 cemetery districts, even though cities and counties could provide the same services.

Eliminating many of the special districts wouldn’t save much, as their budgets often are small and the services still would have to be provided. Still, every bit of savings helps.

One reorganization that could save significant money is consolidating school districts, particularly administrations. But lawmakers — including most small-government conservatives — won’t even discuss it.

As Steineger notes, nearly all companies, small to large, readjust their business model every few years, as do many churches and nonprofit groups. Yet Kansas government won’t make similar improvements and adaptations.

That makes no sense.