Despite the dire financial situation that the 2009 Kansas Legislature will face, it’s important for lawmakers to take an approach that is both thoughtful and has the best long-range interests of the state in mind.
With a $137 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year and a possible $1 billion shortfall next year, it’s almost certain that every state-funded agency and service will feel some of the budget pain. Nonetheless, lawmakers need to be careful to make their cuts in ways that make financial sense and don’t do permanent damage to the state or its residents.
For example, the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services announced this week that it would immediately freeze access to a program that serves Kansans with physical and mental disabilities. The names of people who need the home- and community-based services the programs provides will be placed on a waiting list until at least July 1, 2009.
SRS officials said the action was necessary to allow it to continue providing services to about 7,000 Kansans the program already assists. However, the main thrust of the program is to keep people with physical disabilities out of nursing homes. It makes no sense financially to withhold community services that would prevent the need for far-more-expensive nursing home care.
Another penny-wise, pound-foolish situation is occurring at the Kansas Museum of History. The system that regulates the humidity in the museum’s collections area has been broken since April. Especially during dry Kansas winters, the equipment prevents deterioration of thousands of artifacts, such as the State Constitution, battle flags, furnishings, clothing, etc.
Officials of the Kansas State Historical Society are not optimistic about gaining legislative approval of the $476,000 it will cost to replace the system, but is this the right priority? It would be far better to hold off on some other project — perhaps additional renovations to the statehouse — rather than risk irreversible damage to the state’s historical icons.
A slightly different example is the $15 million budgeted for the Kansas University School of Pharmacy expansion, which almost certainly is on the chopping block. The long-term effect of this expansion is important to KU, but it is even more important to communities across Kansas.
It was reported recently that 31 of the 105 counties in Kansas have only one pharmacy in operation; six counties have none. Pharmacies are a vital first-line provider of health care in many small counties. Without pharmacists, those businesses will close, and the loss of a key service will be one more nail in the coffin of some rural Kansas towns.
We don’t envy state lawmakers, who will face may difficult decisions when they return to Topeka next month, but we urge them as they make those decisions to keep the big picture in mind for the state and its future.