Archive for Sunday, August 14, 2011

Make it right

Kansas legislators need to move quickly to remedy the terrible precedent set by forcing local governments to fund services that are the state’s responsibility.

August 14, 2011


City and county officials have taken the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation off the hook. Now, local taxpayers can only hope that the Kansas Legislature returns the favor.

Although members of the Lawrence City Commission and Douglas County Commission expressed displeasure over the precedent they were creating, they decided this week to commit $450,000 in local tax money for the next two years to maintain an SRS office in Lawrence. That completely covers the amount state SRS would have saved by closing the office. SRS officials earlier had said that closing the office would save the state about $450,000 per year, but had to revise that figure after learning that about half that amount was federal funds that simply would be lost by the state.

SRS Secretary Rob Siedlecki told a Kansas Public Radio reporter Thursday that the local funding deal was “a win-win for everybody,” but it doesn’t really feel that way. Blackmail may be too strong a word, but by threatening to close the local SRS office, state officials put local governments in a near-impossible situation.

Using local tax dollars to take over a state responsibility sets a terrible precedent, but if local officials stood on principle, there would be significant social and economic costs for the county. There was the human cost to thousands of residents who depend on SRS services as well as the economic loss of 87 employees and the estimated loss of $2.4 million in food stamp assistance that wouldn’t be distributed in Lawrence.

Timing also was critical. City and county officials were told that SRS was preparing to move furniture out of the local offices. It appeared that the office closing would be over and done with before state legislators got around to looking into the situation. Once the office was closed, it would be extremely difficult to have it restored.

City and county officials made the decision they thought they had to make for the good of the community. Nonetheless, it could be a decision they live to regret.

SRS office closings across the state have gotten the attention of some state legislators who say they intended for administrative budget cuts included in the budget to take place at the state level, not at local offices. Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said Tuesday that she hoped legislators will consider the issue in the 2012 session and perhaps order funding to the Lawrence office to be restored. According to the local funding agreement, if that happens, the city and county are no longer obligated to continue their financial support.

In his KPR interview, Siedlecki made no reference to revisiting the situation for the next two years. After the local funding agreement runs out, he said, his office will “make good faith efforts to keep the office open” with additional funding from the Legislature.

We hope the Legislature won’t wait that long to act. City and county officials stepped into this situation because they believed the closing of the local office would be beyond the point of no return before legislators could take any action. They were backed into a corner and made the best decision they could — but that doesn’t make it OK for local taxpayers to fund this state responsibility.

State legislators need to review this situation as quickly as possible and make it right.


Phillbert 6 years, 10 months ago

"Using local tax dollars to take over a state responsibility sets a terrible precedent.."

Unfortunately it is a precedent that was set long ago by the Republican Legislature as it cut services and taxes at the state level, forcing the responsibility to deliver those services (and raise taxes to do so) off on cities and counties.

Just look at how local jails have become last-ditch mental health facilities after the state dismantled most of its mental health infrastructure. Or at how the state has pulled back from school funding, making locals pick that tab up too. The SRS office closure was just the most blatant of a long line of responsibility shirking actions.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 10 months ago

How do you feel about the federal government's usurping of state responsibility by establishing a federal dept. of education?
It seems to me that both parties have been in the habit of shifting responsibility. The Democrats trickle up and the Republicans trickle down.

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

There's a clear and good reason for having a federal department of education, in order to ensure consistent standards across the country.

There's no such reason for this elimination of state funding, especially since it doesn't even save the state any money.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 10 months ago

First, those consistent standards have not been achieved. But beyond that, I'm not sure that having consistent standards is anything more than a good dream, something that will never be achieved. But even if it is something to strive for, why not make welfare standards the same? Why not make everything the same? Why should my roads be any less smooth than anyone else's.
There are times when we argue that local authorities know best how to deal with certain issues. There are times when we believe a more central government is better equipped to deal with things.
You argued for consistent policies when it came to drug policies. Why the inconsistency now?

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

Anything that is a guaranteed right in our society that involves government expenditures should be consistent across the country, in my view.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 10 months ago

So you believe that SRS should be closed by the state with the federal government assuming that responsibility?

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

I didn't say that.

I said it should be consistent - I'd say that SRS services should be consistent throughout the country - the eligibility should be the same, the funding should be the same, etc.

If it's a guaranteed right at the federal level.

rwwilly 6 years, 10 months ago

Why should anything at the state level necessarily be "consistent" from state to state? Our Constitution does not guarantee "consistency" from state to state on matters of this nature and never has. States differ widely on income levels, personal weath, taxation, building/zoning requirements, employment rights/law, tort and criminal law, marriage etc. This is called "States rights"...remember? The Consititution guarantees a certain broad universal set of rights and privileges that apply to all citizens. Thats it. Remember, the 10th amendment? The vast majotity of powers are reserved for the states, not the federal government.

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

Anything that's a guaranteed right at the federal level was my comment.

If certain things are guaranteed rights for all American citizens, then the implementation of that should be consistent from state to state all throughout the country.

It's the only way to ensure the rights are protected.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 10 months ago

We could go into a long discussion about what is a guaranteed right and what is a privilege. But putting that discussion off for another time, I will say that as I interpret American history, our founding fathers had a strong distrust in a strong central government, hence the tenth amendment. While arguments can be made for why the federal government should intercede to impose fairness, it's just not they way we have set things up. As an example, the federal government might be responsible for our common defense, but the state will be responsible for education while counties have been responsible for welfare. Over the years, lines have been blurred. There is now a federal dept. of education. There are 50 state depts. of education, numerous local boards of education, etc. The same is true with welfare. While the original poster bemoaned the fact that the state was dumping it's responsibility down on the city/county, I mentioned that others are trying to dump education up to the federal level. The dumping is going both ways and is being done by both parties. And both conflict the the original intent of our founding fathers.

rwwilly 6 years, 10 months ago

I agree with you that it seems for some time now it has been more fashionable to "dump up" thinking, I suppose, that the largesse of the federal government can solve the issue. Dumping down, I suspect, is a result of the ongoing budget constraints.I worry that some day when I drive across I-670 from Missouri to Kansas (or vice versa for that matter) I will see a sign that says not "Wecome to Kansas" but, rather, "This sign marks the old Kansas state line. Please call your US Congressman for assistance."

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

See my response to rwwilly.

It makes little sense to say that access to a decent public education is a guaranteed right for all Americans if standards and practices in different states differ widely, so that one state educates children well, and another quite poorly.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 10 months ago

You're assuming that there is only one way to get a decent public education. There may be many ways to get from here to there. And California may choose one path while New York chooses another. What is right for California might not be right for New York for a wide variety of reasons. It shouldn't be up to Washington to determine the path, just that a decent public education is available. And again, all this assumes that the service in question (education, welfare, access to information via the latest technology, etc.) is a right and not a privilege.

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

I agree - that's what I said.

The standards should be consistently met - how that happens may very well differ from state to state.

And, again, agreed.

nativeson 6 years, 10 months ago

The lower part of the food chain was doing well in Lawrence. The City of Lawrence was able to maintain a flat mill levy for 4 years and produce a small surplus. Principals matter, and this is poor policy on the part of the City and the County. The is no chance the Kansas Legislature will restore this funding. Why should they when they find someone else to step into the responsibility? Now, if the City or the County have a tough time funding this amount in the future, they collectively become the bad guy in the equation. It is difficult to watch policy decisions at other levels of government impact have impact on your citizens, but it is impossible to fill the void left by the state and the federal government. Neither local body should try to accomplish this task.

tolawdjk 6 years, 10 months ago

Doesn't appear to be completely current, but since Truman, only Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Clinton never dropped below 40%. Even Reagan dropped sub-40 for a time.

So, what you want is an editorial that says, generally, after election, no President in the modern era, other than Clinton, has been more popular at the end than he was at the begining.

To be fair, I found some more data not wsj related since people may have a problem with that data and compairing gallup to wsj isn't exactly apples to apples.

According to this, you would have to back to Kennedy before you found a President with a higher "lowest" approval rating. Gallup apparently even had Reagan dipping to 37%.

What is interesting to me, is that the one-two of GW and Obama appears to most closely resemble the LBJ-Nixon time period with Presidents spending the majority of their term in office with nothing but a trending decline. Now, Obama term isn't up, so it is difficult to unbiasedly project where he will finish...could be Nixon, could be Ford, might be Reagan (all past Presidents with first third trends most similar to Obama), however, I think it is telling that you have both Ford and Reagan with steepest declines early in their terms.

But 39%? 39% is just a number, and in the modern history of Presidents, a number everyone has played with one time or another.

jayhawxrok 6 years, 10 months ago

They aren't taking it over, just paying for the part of overhead that's the location, building, utilities, etc. Staff salaries and the expenses related to services provided are still SRS responsibility.

Of course if Brownback the zealot hadn't hired a bunch of out of state right wingers at high salaries we'd not be having this conversation at all.

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