Budget shortfall – Lawmakers need to thank their lucky stars they were elected or re-elected by voters willing to believe the sun was shining in Kansas. And then the legislators need to reverse the ill-advised income tax cuts that led us to this point. Democrats, moderate Republicans, Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, the Legislative Division of Post Audit, teachers, local elected officials, economists, accountants and virtually every Kansas newspaper’s editorial team without familial ties to the governor saw this train wreck coming.
Kansas is beyond broke. The gap between expenses and revenues for the rest of this fiscal year and the next is close to $900 million. Lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback must close it by finding new sources of revenue or cutting expenses. The responsible course is to improve the revenue stream. Many essential state functions, like child protection services, are showing the stresses of being underfunded.
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Inauguration speech – Gov. Sam Brownback’s inauguration speech contained a confusing, almost warped message, chock-full of contradiction. He held up the importance of family values, which was great. But he lamented the passing of the “sacrificial generation,” suggesting that our economic difficulties have been caused by society’s focus on “personal satisfaction and chance.” It’s confusing because many of the difficulties in Kansas actually seem the product of Brownback’s own policies. On the other hand, maybe the Brownback vision makes complete sense now. Maybe the starvation of the state is entirely the goal, as part of some sort of theory that hard times are good for us, that it will toughen us up, make us better, cure us of our overindulgence.
In his inaugural address, Gov. Sam Brownback called for a renewed focus on love of God, country and family, and said while many of our problems are economic, the reality is the solutions are cultural and moral. That is a bit disingenuous. Many people think the causes of and solution to the economic problems of the United States and Kansas are rather obvious, and the responsibility for addressing them rests with different levels of government.
During his inauguration, Gov. Sam Brownback professed an interest in protecting the vulnerable. He focused on “the crisis of the family,” and said he would fight for “the weakest” in our midst. The rhetoric only rang hollow from a governor with a record of endorsing policies harmful to Kansans in need, with the decision to block Medicaid expansion one prime example of as much.
Schools – Local control of school matters won a couple of small victories Jan. 6 when the state’s school efficiency task force decided not to recommend limiting teacher negotiations and called for the Legislature to fund annual audits of school districts if lawmakers mandate them. Whether the Legislature adopts those recommendations is another matter. It’s hard to escape the sense that legislative conservatives, smarting from court rulings on school funding, simply don’t trust those involved in public education and are going to considerable lengths to remind them who’s really in charge.
Most hungover – There are some valid arguments that Lawrence doesn’t really deserve the title of “most hungover city” in America, as awarded by the Business Insider website. But, as they say, perception is reality, and any listing like this one doesn’t present Lawrence in the best light. It’s not the kind of thing Lawrence wants to be known for. We’d rather be at the top of a list for business development, education excellence, affordable housing or job opportunities. Our downtown is widely praised; hopefully that isn’t connected to the concentration of drinking establishments in that area. Let’s redouble our efforts to make sure the next list Lawrence tops is for something more laudable than hangovers.