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Archive for Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Budget turf

December 11, 2002

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Cooperation seems to be a rare commodity in the state's current budget crisis.

If the Kansas Department of Administration's attitude is typical of other state agencies, a cooperative approach to the state's financial problems may be difficult to achieve.

State Sen. Janis Lee, D-Kensington, has called to public attention a tactic being employed by the Department of Administration to try to shore up its own budget by indirectly dipping into other departmental budgets. The department provides a basic 40-hour supervisory training course that some other state agencies require for employees who are going into supervisory positions.

The course used to cost $95, but in the last few months, the price has been going up, first to $295, then to $595 and finally to $795. That's an increase of almost 800 percent since August. Not coincidentally, August also is when Gov. Bill Graves announced across-the-board budget cuts for state agencies.

Department of Administration officials defended the inflated price of the training program, saying it was necessary to offset the governor's budget cuts and pay the expenses of the program. Providing the training, of course, costs the department something, but it's hard to imagine or justify that before the department raised its prices to $795, it was offering the same course for only $95. The logical conclusion is that the department is using the huge fees to offset budget cuts in other areas.

This is a despicable practice on several levels. As noted by Sen. Lee, the inflated fees are a vivid example of how some bureaucrats are more interested in protecting their own turf than in working with other agencies to deal with the current budget crisis. The attitude seems to be "I'll get mine; let them worry about theirs."

The Department of Administration appears to be robbing Peter to pay Paul. Administration officials know their course is a requirement in other departments, so they have those departments over a barrel. Efforts to replace the training with something less expensive also were stonewalled by the department.

This example also illustrates what elected lawmakers are up against when they try to streamline government or "cut the fat" from the state bureaucracy. The Department of Administration is only one of dozens of state agencies taking a defensive, rather than a cooperative, posture in an effort to protect their territory and their funding.

A group of state legislators are proposing a plan that would reward Kansas school districts that cooperate with one another in an effort to streamline their administrations and save taxpayer money. Perhaps a similar program could be offered to state bureaucrats in an effort to discourage the kind of unsavory tactics the Department of Administration seems to be practicing now.

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