Gov. Sam Brownback and his administration are on a roll when it comes to ill-conceived, autocratic decisions that have a negative impact on the state.
It was hard to top the decision to close the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services offices in Lawrence and eight other communities or the Kansas Department of Health and Environment decision not even to apply for some of the $900 million the federal government is making available over the next five years for efforts to battle chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
Those decisions were certainly noteworthy, but the decision announced Tuesday to reject a $31.5 million grant to let Kansas control its own destiny on a key component of national health care takes the cake.
Although he had signed on to accept the grant earlier this year, Brownback now has decided that the money comes with too many “strings attached” and that all states “should be preparing for fewer federal resources, not more.” Should Kansas also apply that principle to federal highway funds? Maybe we should change our minds about accepting federal funds for the National Bio- and Agro Defense Facility planned in Manhattan. Too many “strings attached.”
The $31.5 million grant rejected on Tuesday would have allowed Kansas to be a leader in developing online resources to provide information that will allow consumers to make educated decisions about their health insurance coverage. Kansas was one of only seven states to receive such a grant, which was a strong endorsement of Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger’s experience and expertise in her field.
Kansas could have used that grant money to develop a system that would meet the state’s needs and set a model for other states to follow. Instead, Kansas now likely will be forced to use a system developed by some other state or the federal government.
“It’s a missed opportunity,” said Praeger, who reportedly wasn’t consulted before the governor made his decision, “but I understand the politics.”
Yes, it’s all about “the politics.” It’s not about saving money. Some other state will get the $31.5 million we sent back. It’s not about “the strings.” Praeger said that wasn’t a problem on this grant and it certainly doesn’t keep Kansas from accepting other types of federal grants.
It’s about the politics. Refusing the federal money is another way to create fear and doubt about the national health care program that Brownback opposes.
It’s no coincidence that Brownback’s decision was announced only a week after a number of Kansas legislators attended a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council in New Orleans. In fact, rejecting federal grants was a specific strategy outlined in ALEC’s “State Legislators Guide to Repealing ObamaCare.”
ALEC pushes a conservative agenda and was described in a report by the Center of Media and Democracy as a public policy front for corporate interests, including the Kansas-based Koch Industries, which helps fund ALEC and donates heavily to many conservative political causes and candidates. ALEC foots much of the bill for state legislators to attend its meetings, where they get strategy advice such as rejecting federal grants. The group is using state legislators to push a national agenda that may or may not benefit their individual states or the citizenry.
The top priority of Brownback or any governor should be to do what is best for Kansas and its people. It’s too bad that many recent actions taken by Brownback and his administration appear to be based on loyalty to political entities or agendas that have nothing to do with the best interests of the state.