The second Monday in January. That’s the day Kansas legislators officially get to work, although a lot of preparations and behind-the-scenes lobbying take place before then.
As our state senators and representatives head to Topeka, Kansans should consider whether their elected officials are serving the interests of constituents or following partisan leaders to further their own political ambitions.
It’s through that lens that voters should judge how well legislators address some of the tougher issues facing the state.
The thing about government is that there’s never a shortage of problems — prisons, education funding, foster care, Medicaid expansion, rural communities, tax policies and so on.
To hear special interests and some politicians, you might think that just one bill or new law or funding decision can make a problem disappear. For example, advocates of Medicaid expansion imply expansion will save troubled hospitals and make health care affordable for everyone.
Health care is a huge issue for Kansans, and especially rural Kansans. Medicaid expansion would provide additional resources for low income families and financially troubled hospitals. But it will treat only some of the symptoms; it’s not a cure.
Of more concern is the very structure of the health care system, especially in rural areas. Affordability, a shortage of providers, and access to specialized care all loom large in communities outside major urban-suburban areas.
If the state’s rural communities are to remain viable, Kansas will need to be resourceful and innovative. It will need to take some risks.
That applies not only to health care, but other facets of rural life.
Those trying to re-create populations and institutions — churches, schools, etc. — that existed 100 years ago have it all wrong. The way things used to be is no more a factor in rural survival than hog oilers and threshing machines.
High-speed internet; accessible transportation options, affordable and decent housing, clean water sources, agriculture-based, value-added manufacturing — those are the kinds of assets that will attract people and resources to rural Kansas.
Legislators will need to think big. But it’s more likely that they will muck around in the usual sticky issues.
Abortion rights, for example. Republicans could tie support for any form of Medicaid expansion to a complete ban on abortions. Anti-abortion groups and legislators already have signaled that they want the state’s constitution amended to outlaw all abortions.
That likely means a stalemate on abortion and Medicaid expansion.
Tax reforms and tax relief also will be sticky, as Republicans and Democrats argue about whether the state can afford to reduce tax revenue, and who should benefit from reforms.
As we have seen on the state and federal levels, Republicans have abandoned all restraint on debts and deficits. And Democrats’ sense of fiscal responsibility is iffy. So it will be interesting to see how tax issues play out in Topeka.
Less pressing this session — but always a major issue — is funding for education, including universities.
About half of the state’s budget goes to support education for Kansas students. Some of the state’s richest special interests think that’s too much. Education, however, is the best investment Kansas can make in its people and itself.
But more isn’t always better. In education and elsewhere, smart investments require that Kansas ensures that taxpayers’ funds are used effectively to improve public programs and services across the state.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers across Kansas.