Friday, June 5, 2009

Can we please send Steve Rose to a political science class?

Steve Rose has done it again.

In another riveting edition of his "Memo" entitled "We'll learn from California", Steve Rose employed his typical style - start with his own version of a fact he wants to discuss, make a few decent observations, create a straw man, and then attack the straw man in an effort to make a point that makes very little sense and is in fact the opposite of reality.

In this case, the "adjusted fact" was his view that tax cuts have put Kansas in a financial crisis, the few good observations were some long overdue spending cuts, his strawman was the Kansas Chamber and "conservatives", and his nonsensical point that drastic spending cuts in Calfiornia will be so terrible that Kansans won't want it and, as he puts it "citizens will rebel, even if it means increased taxes." He seems to imply that a high tax, high spending state, even one in a budget crisis, is preferable to one where our government spends within our means, people have money in their pockets, and government size is in line with what people really need.

If it weren't for the fact this man influenced the opinion of thousands of Johnson Countians who rely on his weekly column for information and insight into what is going on with Kansas politics, we wouldn't waste our time disecting his drivel.

Rather, we'd take up a fund to send Mr. Rose to a political science class -- because his ignorance of the facts and political realities of the present do a great disservice to his readers.

Let's start with the "facts" he lays out:

"All the tax cuts over the past 10 years have left Kansas reeling in red ink."

This is downright false. Taxes are not the reason for us being in red ink. Taxes are still too high in Kansas, in fact. If it weren't for the tax cuts that have been passed, our state's economy would even further be in the toilet and be even more of a government-dominated state. What has us in red ink is at the heart of the question he then poses to his readers:

"Why has spending increased over the rate of inflation?"

Um, Steve -- has it occurred to you that the reason we are in red ink is that we are spending over the rate of inflation and population growth?

He answers his question this way:

"Simple. Courts have ordered $800 million more for K-12 schools, citizens are demanding more services, universities need more to keep tuition within reach of the middle class, and, as I said, Kansans want more bad guys in jail, whether it is for possession of marijuana or illegal immigration."

Now, part of that is true -- those are some of the reasons for the ridiculous levels of spending in Kansas. It is questionable whether "citizens are demanding more services", as it is our opinion citizens simply want more of their money and government to use their tax dollars efficiently.

Mr. Rose also makes several good suggestions for possible cuts:

- Reducing the number of Regents universities (we agree)
- Reducing the number of community colleges from 19 (we agree)
- Reducing the number of school district, from 308 (we agree)

He then says, "If consolidation is not politically feasible, what expesnes should we whack out of the budget?"

On this point, he attempts to deflect the question to the Chamber, ignoring the holes in the question he is asking. Rather than trashing tax cuts and critizcizing conservatives, perhaps he should instead demand we elect representatives who will stand for the spending cuts he himself proposes.

He also ignores the real problem -- the fact that the legislature has never operated from a zero-based budgeting standpoint. That is, rather than starting at "Zero" every year in funding programs, the starting point is the previous year's spending, even if that spending was too high. What we end up with is a situation where it is very hard to reduce the actual size of any program. Instead, what we should do is be looking at every single dime going out, making sure it is justified, and if it isn't, cutting it.

He then follows with this outright misstatement:

"Our very conservative Legislature struggled mightily to come up with budget cuts this past session to close the budget gap. If a conservative, low-tax Legislature cannot easily find places to cut, what does that tell you?"

Very conservative legislature? Who is he kidding? It was CONSERVATIVE legislators who wanted to have a budget that cut spending -- it was Steve's moderate and liberal buddies that stopped further reductions!

Furthermore, the legislature isn't conservative and it certainly isn't "very conservative". The Kansas Senate is ran by liberal Republicans such as Steve Morris and John Vratil. The leadership for this session was 18 - 13 on the Republican side. Add in the 9 Democrats to the 18 "moderates" and you have a legislature that is 27 moderates and Democrats to 13 conservatives.

In the House, there is a higher percentage of conservatives, and they do control the Republican caucus, but that still wasn't enough to gain a majority of the body itself. Again, a coalition of Democrats and moderates -- 12 of them from Johnson County -- prevented a budget that would have reduced spending further and put Kansas on the road to economic sanity.

Where is this "very conservative" legislature Steve Rose is speaking of?

There isn't one.

The fact is conservatives have never had control of the Senate. They've had the House at times but never enough to reduce spending. In fact, year after year, coalitions of Democrats and moderate Republicans have passed high spending budgets that are responsible for the situation we're in.

Steve Rose says that Kansas will follow California. In the case of spending, it already has, which is why we are where we are in this state. California, long controlled by moderates and liberals, is now in a state of severe financial crisis. And no one would argue Calfornia is a land of "very conservative" politicians. Kansas, long controlled by moderates and for the last 7 years, a liberal Governor, is now in a crisis of it's own. It seems to us that if one were to take a basic political science class, that perhaps one would reason that the moderate and liberal fiscal policies haven't worked.

Of course, Steve Rose knows this, but won't admit it -- because it would blow a gigantic hole in his decades-long argument that moderate and liberal policies work, and that conservatives are just a bunch of right wingers who hate education and want to close all public schools.

What the Kansas Chamber -- and conservatives -- are trying to prevent is Kansas becoming even more like California. What they're trying to prevent is having to make the kinds of cuts they are talking about in Calfiornia -- but rather, making sizeable cuts now so we're not in that kind of position later. What they're also trying to do is implement budget reform and taxpayer transparency so this budget crisis doesn't happen again.

The problem for Mr. Rose is that these plans, if implemented successfully, would mean that the moderate and liberal view of the world would have been proven a failure -- that their high tax, high spending agenda was over, and that conservatives, embraced by the public for implementing policies which actually preserve public services (but at a workable rate), might actually be kept in power.

And that would, of course, render all future weekly "Memos" null and void.