Local Columnists

Dave Helling: It’s time to break lawmakers’ ‘cycle of dependency’

Gov. Sam Brownback recently signed a bill to restrict welfare benefits in Kansas, yet as columnist Dave Helling points out, Brownback has lived almost entirely on the taxpayer’s dime for three decades as a congressman, a U.S. senator and the state’s chief executive.
Gov. Sam Brownback recently signed a bill to restrict welfare benefits in Kansas, yet as columnist Dave Helling points out, Brownback has lived almost entirely on the taxpayer’s dime for three decades as a congressman, a U.S. senator and the state’s chief executive. The Associated Press

Lawmakers in Kansas and Missouri this month escalated their war on poverty, passing legislation to limit access to state services for residents who are struggling to make ends meet.

Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill that further limits lifetime welfare benefits in Kansas and redefines what recipients can buy. Welfare programs, he said, perpetuate “cycles of dependency.”

Wait. You could make the case that if anyone in Kansas is caught in a cycle of dependency, it’s Sam Brownback. He’s earned his living from taxpayers almost all his life. He’s worked in state government, the U.S. House and U.S. Senate and now as governor, where he earns around $100,000 a year.

That’s quite a resume for someone who thinks government is the enemy.

Taxpayers long have provided Brownback money to buy shelter, food, health care, safety and transportation. And, as a bonus, he’s allowed to spend his paycheck anyway he wants, a freedom that the state’s welfare recipients can only envy.

Brownback’s long ride on the public dime is supposed to come to an end in 2019, when term limits force him to finally find a private-sector job. It will be interesting to see where he lands.

Except … a prominent Republican tells me Brownback is thinking about running again for the U.S. Senate in 2020, when Sen. Pat Roberts — also no slouch in the dependency department — is expected to step aside.

If he runs, the governor would have a record for voters to examine. Brownback has said he’s remaking Kansas to stop out-migration — his tax cuts are meant to entice people to move to the state. By 2020, we’ll know whether his ideas worked.

But he and the Legislature have sliced eligibility for Medicaid and food stamps, imposed regressive sales taxes and now have narrowed welfare eligibility. They’re sending an unmistakable message to the state’s poor: Leave or run for office.

Missouri lawmakers, long envious of Kansas’ march to a governmentless society, have passed their own welfare restrictions. They want to cap welfare eligibility at 45 months in the state.

Every lawmaker who voted on the plan is eligible for a check from taxpayers, but their idea of limiting the time someone can get a government check is too good to pass up.

So let’s try this: In Missouri, welfare payments should be linked with legislators’ terms.

If 45 months on the dole sounds right for a single mom, it sounds even better for state legislators. Perhaps they, too, should experience the thrill of looking for a real job.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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