Some recent state spending decisions raise real questions about the legitimate role of government.
When Gov. Sam Brownback spearheaded the move to eliminate funding for the Kansas Arts Commission, he contended that promoting the arts across Kansas was not a legitimate use of taxpayer money.
Can the same be said about protecting the public’s health?
As an example of how local governments are having to pick up the slack for state funding cuts, Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug pointed to a request from the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department for an additional $20,470 to cover the cost of processing tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The state previously had processed such tests for free for people considered high risk — a category that covered a large percentage of those tested. The state stopped processing HIV tests on Jan. 1, 2013, and will stop providing tests for gonorrhea and chlamydia on Jan. 1, 2014.
The decision to discontinue this service without making any provision for it to be continued at the local level apparently indicates that the state no longer thinks that diagnosing and monitoring sexually transmitted diseases in the state is a matter of protecting the public’s health and, therefore, a legitimate use of taxpayer money. If the state thought the tests were important but could be processed more efficiently or cheaply at the local level, it should have provided funding to local agencies to provide that service. As it is, the state is saying this matter isn’t important enough for it to deal with; counties can decide on their own how to provide funding for testing — or not. This health issue no longer is the state’s concern.
The current cost-cutting efforts of state government should spur serious conversation about what Brownback often calls “core government services.” Are some of the services being cut really not worthy of tax support or is that rationale just a way of pushing more government responsibilities onto a different set of taxpayers at the local level? If a public health issue like monitoring sexually transmitted diseases in the state no longer is considered a “core government service,” it’s troubling to consider what other functions of government will soon be added to that list.