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Archive for Sunday, July 7, 2002

Candidates skirt budget details

July 7, 2002

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— They're not saying because they probably don't know.

Nor do they have time or reason to figure out plausible cover stories. Especially if the press and public don't hold their feet to the fire.

The five candidates for Kansas governor particularly the three serious Republican candidates are just starting to catch heat because they won't say what they'd do about the state's budget crisis if elected. But it apparently isn't heat enough to loosen the candidates' lips.

Between the November election and the January 2003 swearing-in, the next governor probably will be forced to choose some dramatic cuts in government services to make up what's expected to be a $600 million to $700 million gap between obligations and revenues. This is a budget problem of historic proportions.

Time is short for choosing among the candidates, so political insiders and newspaper reporters are getting impatient to hear their proposed solutions to what seems the certain, biggest problem confronting the next Legislature.

There is no road map or manual beyond the customary solution for such problems: A combination of program cuts and increased taxes.

If someone among the candidates has solid ideas for dealing with the problem it's time we hear them.

Truthfully, no one in or out of the race quite knows what to do about the state Kansas finds itself in. But there remain time-tested facts that drive campaigns and candidates' actions: Relatively few people will vote in the primary election. Many who will vote have already made up their minds based on prior knowledge of the candidate or because the candidate has been endorsed by a group or person they trust. The biggest number of undecided primary voters the crowd the candidates are trying to persuade in the remaining days of the campaign won't be swayed by detailed position papers or anticipatory budget plans.

Instead, they want to know the cut of the candidate's jib as divined through TV forums or well-crafted political advertisements. That's why the operatives who manage the details of campaigns are pleased when their candidates stay "on message." That means keeping it simple, saying the same thing over and over again.

Here are the messages so far from the GOP field. And they probably are as good as the voting public will get between now and Aug. 6.

Tim Shallenburger: I'm not a crazy radical. I won't raise taxes.

Bob Knight: I had a hard upbringing. I won't cut education spending.

Dave Kerr: I don't smile so great, but I'm still OK. I won't cut education spending.

Dan Bloom: I don't stand a chance. I will raise taxes.

The sparse dialogue of the non-campaign promises one thing for sure: No matter who is elected, they'll have to figure it out when they get there.

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