I’ve been noticing newspapers around Kansas reporting the same thing – that Kansas is in a dreadful financial mess and that it will take decades to get back to our usual, moderate, steady, even keel.
When I ran for office five years ago and saw this problem emerging, I found myself at many front doors with one arm held up level and the other arm angling down, trying to get people to understand that while Kansas has never been a big spending state, we nevertheless have some sustained needs and expenses – represented by the flat arm – but our income is dropping – represented by the angled arm.
I had many people say, “But Brownback or my R legislators and friends tell me the sun is shining in Kansas and that our economy is growing. Why should I believe you?”
Well folks, the truth is clear and you need to remember who the folks were telling you the falsehoods. Fortunately, most Kansans finally figured out what had happened to them, although way too late to prevent most of the damage, leaving us with a major debt to manage.
The income tax cuts of six years ago, especially for those with high incomes, and the total cut in income taxes for 334,000 LLC owners, resulted in state revenue loss of $3.7 billion over five years. To even survive, the state had to raid and delay payments to state departments to the tune of $3.1 billion, including $2.5 billion that had been designated to the highway fund. Had that money been spent on roads and bridges, it would have brought jobs and economic spending all across the state.
The state also delayed its required share of KPERS payments (the state retirement system) by $407 million, raided economic development funds by $125 million and funds designated for children’s early education programs and services by $47 million. The state borrowed $1 billion which will have to be repaid, as will the $407 million still owed to KPERS.
Those are the facts – after the fact. That’s the history that has brought us to our current condition. And apparently, the federal government is now considering doing the same, or something similar, to the whole country.
Sometimes potential problems can be identified far in advance – like the many who were teaching us about climate change in the 1980s and its potential for disaster. Even a year ago, I heard climatologists talking about the more severe hurricanes that we could expect because the water temperature is higher and much more likely to create excessive rain in a tropical storm.
But we don’t seem to be able to respond soon enough to do those things that we know will prevent or alleviate catastrophes before they occur. Coastal communities around the world will be severely affected by the ongoing and worsening climate changes that are now inevitable and increasing in intensity for many years. It’s time, just like it was in Kansas, to stop the downward spiral and begin to do what we can to start to dig ourselves out – even though the environmental mess will take more like a century than a decade to resolve.
Linda Johnson is a Leavenworth Times columnist.