February 19, 2016
Recently, a presidential candidate inspired a bit of criticism by repeating a similar comment in a rather rote manner. Repetition aside, what he said was interesting. He several times expressed the opinion that President Barack Obama knows exactly what he is doing. True or not, perhaps a similar sentiment could be expressed about our governor and his allies. Perhaps we should consider the notion that the current difficult financial situation is not an accidental result of failed policies but a deliberate, planned result.
Too often critics of current state financial policy have assumed the current ruling class shares their desire for effective, compassionate and fair government. That may be changing. This past week Duane Goossen, arguably the most knowledgeable person in Kansas in respect to state finance, edged toward a realization that the financial starving of the state may be deliberate.
No one denies the obvious – that libertarian ideology is driving the current philosophy of Kansas state government and may be, for the moment, supported by a majority of the voters. The Koch Brothers’ influence and financial heft has helped elect the current administration and the majority of the Legislature. Just last week their political arm began to attack some of the remaining Republican moderates, including Rep. Steven Becker of Reno County. The various think tanks and political organizations in Kansas, which are openly financed by the Kochs, including the state Chamber of Commerce, are by far the most influential elements in Kansas politics. The court system is the only current piece of government not under their sway, a reality that feeds the ongoing epic struggle between the Supreme Court and the Brownback administration.
By definition, the libertarian philosophy requires a constrained government. The objective must be to make it difficult for government to regulate either business or the individual. And how better to weaken government than to starve it of resources? It is politically very difficult to reduce government by focusing on the appropriations process. There is too much need and too much advocacy and too much organized political influence. So “starve the beast” becomes the mantra. If the resources aren’t there, they can’t be appropriated. Isn’t that where Kansas finds itself? Have we not elected a majority which seems to seek a weakening of government and thereby rendering it less effective?
But how does one create political support for changing a longtime bipartisan government objective of addressing societal needs to the extent possible? Perhaps by appealing to the natural inclination to resist taxes. Income taxes, with their progressive nature, inspire the most resistance from the affluent. So what better way to garner support from that element than to simply excuse them from the payment of taxes. So a system is created whereby farmers, rental property owners, small businesses and professionals such as lawyers or doctors or accountants can avoid paying any state income tax. Predictably, not paying taxes seems rather nice. And according to the roadmap memo developed by Sen. Terry Bruce, R-Nickerson, Senate Majority Leader, and printed Wednesday, a detailed formula for selling the entire package to the Kansas electorate has been created. Specific language is recommended for the purpose of selling a political philosophy much as one would sell soap or cosmetics or timeshares.
In the long run, the joy of reduced taxes will have consequences. We are beginning to pay the price of neglected roads, pinched schools, increased recidivism in the prisons, lessened security as the Highway Patrol shrinks, severe understaffing of state hospitals, along with the pain of increased debt and a national reputation for ineffective government. This cannot be helpful in attracting and retaining business, in maintaining property values and in achieving a satisfactory quality of life for all our citizens.
For a long, long time, Kansas governors representing both political parties have called upon our better angels to address state issues in a responsible, compassionate and efficient manner. To get a bit biblical, “the least among us” have drawn our attention even as we have emphasized fairness in our attempts to provide necessary resources. And although the give and take of interest groups has often seemed to spring from selfish motives, we have never before resorted to an appeal to self as state policy.
Although libertarianism speaks often about freedom and liberty, it is mostly a glorification of self as opposed to community. It is suspicious of collective effort to address poverty or disability or other societal problems. It is particularly cognizant of money matters, including taxation, and seems little concerned with equity and opportunity differences.
A libertarian society works very well for the privileged, the most capable and those who, either by ability or birth or good fortune, find upward mobility. It works less well for those who, for whatever reason, find themselves in difficult circumstances or who begin life in a disadvantaged position.
It is to the credit of our state that, in the past, it has tried to balance the viewpoint of libertarians with that of those who would seek a societal solution for every problem. With those currently managing Kansas government, the pendulum has been allowed to swing far toward the libertarian viewpoint. I doubt that reality results from simple misjudgment or bad luck. I would suggest the governor and his allies know “exactly what they’re doing.” And the Bruce roadmap points the way.
Read more from the Hutchinson News here.