In rejecting the the Kansas Hospital Association’s proposal to expand Medicaid, Gov. Sam Brownback wrote recently: “At the end of the day, every big government program is about one thing, taking money from the many and giving it to the few. Is that really in the best interests of all Kansans?”
While he was clearly making a rhetorical query, it is in fact a policy question.
Services provided by government tend to raise revenues from the broadest available resources and provide services to a narrower group of beneficiaries. Government typically implements programs because they are too difficult, unprofitable or legally and ethically inappropriate for private parties to provide.
Government spending and programs are meant to solve problems, and good problem-solving requires planning. One thing a majority of Kansans would agree upon is that planning has not been the premier skill of this gubernatorial administration.
Consider this list of widely discussed problems: The societal costs associated with Kansas children who fail from the beginning due to disparities of wealth, parenting and skimpy public resources; the ongoing need to adequately and equitably fund K-12 public education; and KanCare, which is struggling in the absence of Medicaid expansion and due to poor planning.
The greatest unmet planning challenge is addressing the tremendous differences in the cultures, public costs and economies that exist between urbanized Kansas and the rest of the state.
The governor, after six years, recently solicited a reported 50 organizations to propose alternatives to his two year’s of block grant funding for the state’s K-12 education system. He also declares that the time has now come to begin serious conversations and planning to reduce public appetites for state spending in light of continued revenue shortages.
It is stunning to think that the administration is finally accepting that, along with revenue cuts, good government practice dictates aligning spending habits with revenue. What is equally stunning is the implicit acknowledgment that the governor and his administration isn’t willing to offer leadership on these matters.
Grudgingly, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and several apprehensive state House members seem to have come to realize that the cupboards have been swept bare.
With Nov. 8 nearing, it might be well to remember the saying: Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us.
Mark Peterson teaches political science at Washburn University.