The Pitch's guide to Kansas' shift from far right to very wrong 

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Brian Stauffer

Suicides are up in Kansas — way up.

An October report from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment revealed that 505 Kansans killed themselves in 2012, a startling 31.5 percent jump from the 384 suicides committed in 2011.

That sobering increase can be attributed, in part, to ripple effects from the recession. Suicide numbers tend to climb in economically challenging times.

But the spike also correlates to state policy. From 2009 to 2012, Kansas cut 12.4 percent from its mental-health budget — the ninth-largest decrease in the nation over that period. In Sedgwick County, where 88 people took their lives in 2012, the community mental-health center has lost more than half its state funding since 2009.

The KDHE's report shines a morbid light on one of the consequences of a business-obsessed state ignoring the needs of its citizens: More people die.

Poke around Kansas and you'll see variations on this theme. Government agencies and institutions that are already squeezed end up starved by the state and further stretched, and citizens struggle to receive basic services. In Kansas, this isn't merely the product of a lousy national economy. It's the result of Gov. Sam Brownback and a willing state Legislature testing the crackpot tea-party idea that gutting government operations, while eliminating business and income taxes, makes Kansas a desirable place to live and work.

But life under Brownback is a bewildering existence, and some days that seems almost by political design. Every week, there's news of some new budgetary atrocity or comically backward piece of legislation being floated. Are guns really allowed in courthouses now? Are public schools actually so underfunded that the revenue formula is unconstitutional? What was that thing about outlawing all sustainable practices? Was that an Onion article? How are you even supposed to keep up with all this nonsense, let alone keep your head above the mudslide?

Before the clowns in the Kansas Legislature suit up for another season of high jinks in January, here's The Pitch's guide to all the depressing events occurring in the state. Remember: Brownback is up for re-election next year, and his approval rating is hovering around 35 percent. No flower blooms forever, not even in the Sunflower State.

K-12 EDUCATION

Here is all you really need to know about Brownback's tax policies: In 2012, he signed a five-year, $3.7 billion tax cut, with no plan to restore the state spending on education that had been cut by roughly $511 million from 2009 through 2012.

Kansas school districts sued the state over the budget, and a three-judge District Court panel unanimously ruled this past January that Kansas' spending on education was unconstitutionally low and must be increased by a minimum of about $400 million to meet standards. The court also noted that it "seems completely illogical that the state can argue that a reduction in education funding was necessitated by the downturn in the economy and the state's diminishing resources and at the same time cut taxes further."

Kansas senators, naturally, have challenged that ruling, proposing a constitutional amendment that would bar state courts from having oversight of such matters. The state also appealed the District Court's decision and took the case to the Kansas Supreme Court last month.

"The state is advancing technical arguments like judiciability and standing issue to avoid grappling with the simple fact that the schools are underfunded," says Alan Rupe, who represented the school districts in the Supreme Court hearing. "In doing so, they're clearly admitting that if they lose, there's no evidence to suggest Kansas education funding is adequate for our kids. The trial court panel — which, by the way, was assembled by the Kansas Legislature — listened to weeks of testimony and reviewed a lot of information and reached the conclusion that Kansas education is underfunded. There's no way around that, so the state is using these technical arguments as a last attempt to avoid the consequences of their constitutional failure."

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