Until now, all we hear are the dire warnings from people who say they care about budget cuts coming to Kansas over the next several years due to massive tax reductions. What about the silent majority who may not care?
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of legislators and the governor who want to take a meat-ax to the state’s budget. They may have done the calculus: Most people will just shrug their shoulders.
No Kansas politican would dare touch the motor vehicle department. Almost everyone goes to the DMV, and they remember how long or short their wait was. So put that target aside.
But would the average Kansan give two hoots if KanCare, the privatized Medicaid program for the poor, gets slashed? KanCare is one of the largest budget items and is growing the fastest.
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We know for certain that, historically, the poor generally do not vote. And when they do vote, they mostly vote Democratic.
So there is little fear deep cuts would come back at election time to haunt the the governor or the large Republican majority in the Legislature. We can also assume that the average Kansan may think, “This does not affect me.”
That may sound callous, but we soon shall see.
What about universities? That is a big number in the budget. The state has steadily reduced its financial role in subsidizing universities. What if the Legislature and governor just decided that the state can no longer help? What if it is decided that universities will be totally funded by tuitions?
We know historically that students rarely vote, and when they do, they are overwhelmingly liberal, i.e. Democratic.
Parents might howl, but the vast majority of Kansans might just conclude, “Let the students pay their own way. Why should I, a taxpayer, support their higher education?”
Let’s consider what would happen if highways and road improvements were curtailed? Already there is a proposal to gut the highway department’s budget. Does anybody except contractors much care? But the average Kansan probably would not feel the effects for years to come. It is not very likely that voters would turn their wrath on their legislator just because they encounter a few more potholes. Yes, Kansans would pay more in the long run, but that, as they say, is down the road.
State prisons are costly, and costs continue to rise. Certainly, prison budgets would be on the chopping block. But that can be addressed relatively simply. All Kansas has to do is release many of its non-violent offenders, who many think crowd our prisons. That is unlikely to rattle the cages of the public at large.
That leaves the most important state expenditure: public schools.
This is where the state spends half its entire budget. Let’s consider this very carefully. The calculus behind cuts to K-12 education must be exactly right, because this is the politically high-risk area.
Legislators and the governor are already saying Kansas schools are inefficient. Cuts are coming and indeed more were ordered last week.
The answer to the inefficiency, of course, is to consolidate school districts and to close schools that are mostly empty. But that will never happen, because voters in small towns would revolt.
Inasmuch as the vast majority of a school district’s expenses are for teachers, the logical way to deal with cutbacks is to squeeze the districts, forcing them to reduce the number of teachers and, thus, increase class sizes.
If every classroom in every district in Kansas suddenly increased its class sizes by, say, five to seven students, how much would parents care? And how much would those without school-age children care? Maybe not much, or maybe a whole lot.
If there is one area of cutbacks that could bite the legislators or the next Republican nominee for governor, it would be increased classroom sizes. That may be the tipping point in triggering a rebellion against the conservative Republicans, because a whole lot of Kansans will feel the impact, and a lot of Kansans might care.
The above scenarios are not some made-up game I am playing. It likely is the real deal.
The question is, how many Kansans will truly care about these cuts, as their taxes are being lowered?
To reach Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.