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The Balance of State

One of my previous jobs was providing emergency assistance. I worked with individuals and families whose budgets were so tight that one crisis, like a blown tire, a sick kid, or an expensive medication could make them at risk of homelessness. In Emporia, about twenty-five percent of the population lives at this ridiculously difficult economic level. Unemployment rates are low, which means that people in Emporia and Lyon County are working hard. Despite that, they cannot earn enough to live above the poverty level.

At that job, I used a private database to better help people in need. Charitable organizations could track the services provided and determine how best to help: it also prevented abuse. This Kansas database had three divisions: Kansas City, Wichita, and the Balance of State. The Balance of State accounted for most of the land mass of Kansas, but not so many people. We were the flyover district within flyover country.

The title, balance of state, once amused me. It just sounded nicer than saying, “the rest of the state” or “everybody else.” That phrase pops up in my mind when I hear another news story about the dismantling of Kansas infrastructure, the balance of state. Instead of thinking of that database, though, I think of how precariously our state is trying to balance its budget and services.

Funds which have previously been set aside for interests that are important to Kansans, like the Infant/Toddler program, Kansas Department of Transportation, Recipients of the Tobacco Settlement, and every Public School, are now being rolled over into the general fund. The money is not going away: it is being absorbed. These separate funds were set up by previous lawmakers to insure that babies are healthy; the roads are usable, vulnerable populations are adequately served. Oh, and by the way, children are adequately educated. That money is now being used to bail the state out of the abyss of low revenues brought about by tax cuts.

Interestingly, tax cuts don’t usually help low income families. Tax cuts seldom make a difference for the middle class, either. However, they can be quite beneficial to corporations and individuals who are not pinching pennies to buy food. The trickle-down theory embraced by Governor Brownback has not funded a wealth of jobs, just the wealthy. It has devastated the poor, the disabled, and now it is moving on to the middle class, specifically children.

Kansas is managing the education system so poorly that the Kansas State Supreme Court has intervened to insure that our children are educated. Unless legislators develop a plan by July 1, there will be no public schools open in Kansas come fall. Just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned, Governor Brownback is beating a drum of conservatism while Kansas collapses under the weight of blind allegiance by the legislature.

Kansans have been asked to trust Governor Brownback’s great conservative experiment. The plan will work if given enough time, we are told. As we wait for the magic bullet, or maybe Glenda the Good Witch or Captain America to arrive and save us, the state’s systems and safety nets are crumbling. There may be very little left to rescue once the plan works, assuming that it will, assuming that it can.

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