Here’s the dirty little secret as to why so many moderate Republicans in Kansas, especially in Johnson County, will not bother to vote in the August primary.
Despite the fact that approval ratings for Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature are in the toilet, the direct impact of their sins has not yet been felt. And if the impact has not yet hit home, all the headlines about mismanagement of the state’s budget may seem like a distant dream, or maybe a distant nightmare.
Take the downgrade of the state’s credit rating. Independent rating agencies have concluded that Kansas has become a risky investment. The state has borrowed too much, consistently under-funded its pension plan, and slashed revenues through deep tax cuts so much there are legitimate worries about whether the state can pay back bondholders.
Who cares or even knows about that? Although it is embarrassing, and means Kansas must now pay higher interest rates on its bonds, it’s difficult to connect the dots between that irresponsible government and the everyday life of a hard-working, middle-class resident of, say, Johnson County.
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If it is explained that the state is paying its credit cards by using other credit cards, that may click. A household can relate to that. As we all know, there is a day of reckoning for that reckless behavior. But that day has not come. That pain comes later, long after this August’s election.
Every parent of school-age children followed the news about the threatened school shutdown by the Kansas Supreme Court. Had that happened, turnout at the polls would have spiked, and many incumbents would have been punished.
But schools did not close. Furthermore, even with budget cuts forced on wealthier districts like those of Johnson County, there will be no noticeable changes in the classroom. School districts will use their reserves for this year, and there may be a small property tax hike. The funding crisis, for now, is over. The future outlook is scary, but, hey, we can worry about that later. Right?
Busy people in Johnson County may not know that the highway fund reserves in Kansas have been basically wiped out, perhaps forever, to help balance the budget. But do highways look neglected? You sure wouldn’t know it by all the road construction that’s going on in Johnson County.
Current state highway projects in Johnson County are not affected by the cuts, because those projects are already underway and previously funded. But there will be a price to pay for highway budget cuts. Doug Davidson, president of the County Economic Research Institute in Johnson County, worries plenty about the long-term impact on the local economy by the state’s obliterating reserves for future highway construction. But then, that’s down the road. We’ll worry about that later.
Kansans may have heard about steep cuts to higher education. But how many Kansans are up in arms over the state’s continued cutbacks to funding universities?
The pain will be limited to only those paying newly hiked tuition to make up most of the gap. However, students notoriously do not vote, and those who do usually do not vote Republican. So, when moderate Republicans go door-to-door, it is not likely they will be talking much about university funding.
Out of sight, out of mind.
The state has obliterated its funding to the needy and disabled, and slashed funding to health care for the poor. How many candidates will print that on their campaign post cards? How many moderate Republicans will gain traction from that issue? Not many. We know the poor do not vote.
It is such a con game. The general population knows there is turmoil in state government, which is why approval ratings are low. But they also are lulled into apathy, because they do not see or feel the pain today. And tomorrow seems so very far away.
Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org