One of the problems with the cut-taxes-first approach to governing in Kansas and Missouri is that sometimes basic, block-and-tackle functions of government get slashed in the process and left by the side of the road.
Case in point: the lack of inspectors in Kansas to certify new kidney dialysis centers, which The Star reported on last week.
The result is a state with eight nearly new dialysis clinics that can’t be heavily used because Kansas is so far behind on inspections. Ask Martha Voss of Olathe, who’s legally blind and uses a motorized wheelchair, what that means. She’ll tell you that it translates to multiple trips to a center in Lenexa each week instead of the new dialysis center in her neighborhood. The ridiculous inconvenience costs her 1 1/2 hours per trip.
Just a few more inspectors apparently would solve the problem.
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Missouri has taken the same penny-wise, pound-foolish approach far too often. Gov. Eric Greitens recently cut $4 million in assessment funding, a move that put a stop to high school students taking the ACT exam for free.
That’s an issue because when the test is free, more students take it. That, in turn, can encourage more students to apply for college. In 2016, which was the year after Missouri began offering the free exam, the percentage of public school graduating seniors taking the test zoomed from 67.6 percent to 93 percent, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch found.
Those gains presumably will be lost now, and some students who might have changed their lives for the better won’t have that opportunity.
That’s the thing about government. It has a horrible reputation these days, with much of it deserved. But we can’t get so cynical as to not also acknowledge that government often does good things as well. That, of course, is what it’s supposed to do. When public officials lose sight of that, problems follow.
There’s no better example than the ongoing prison crisis in Kansas. The disdain many have for inmates and prisons has led to poor decisions when it comes to paying corrections officers a decent wage. The results have caught up with the state. Prisons are dangerously understaffed, forcing some guards to work 16-hour shifts. Inmates sense vulnerability. Prison unrest has become an issue at Lansing and El Dorado, and now some lawmakers are calling for a special session to increase pay.
Speaking of prisons, here’s another example of government working against itself: Greitens signed a new state budget in June that cuts spending for rehabilitation programs in the Missouri Department of Corrections by $1.4 million. One day earlier, he had laid out a plan for boosting education and job training for inmates.
“That is what will keep our streets safe. It’s what makes the millions of dollars of tax money spent on this system worth something,” Greitens wrote on Facebook.
The department insists the cuts won’t affect educational opportunities at prisons, although a spokesman said officials will have to do more with less.
Another Greitens cut of $370,000 would have reduced support for the same foster-care families that he has championed. But at least Greitens reversed those cuts, saying they were “a mistake.”
Sometimes what government does is actually worth the price. The key is to separate waste from programs that really help people.