Republican Kansas Governor: Pensioners Are Freeloaders
In an excellent documentary by Joe Winston and Laura Cohen, the question “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” (based on the best-selling book of the same name) was asked, with regard to the state having abandoned its storied tradition of radical populism in favor of an ultra-right wing ideology that is clearly harmful to all but the wealthiest and most powerful Kansas citizens. Prescient in its recognition that Kansas voters were consistently voting against their own economic interests, we have now learned how a reckless experiment in hyper-conservative governance will degrade an infrastructure to such a point that the responsible governor’s only recommendation is the shrinking of the government down to the size it can be drowned in the bathtub. This governmental destruction does not come without real human pain, however.
Governor Sam Brownback (R-KS) took the governor’s mansion by storm and quickly became the darling of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. Through strong arming and other politically coercive measures, Brownback ramrodded piece after piece of conservative legislation through the statehouse, cutting tax rates for the state’s uber-wealthy and providing huge tax incentives to corporations, all in the hopes that the long disproved trickle-down theory of economics would yield a modern-day conservative utopia. The state’s terminal budget shortfalls, paired with a recently downgraded credit rating are showing Brownback’s supposed utopia is actually appearing to be more of a hellscape.
Less than two years on from the implementation of Brownback’s draconian tax policies meant to punish those in the lowest economic strata, the state’s revenues have plummeted by $250,000,000. Yes, you read that right. The state is taking in over a quarter-billion less in tax revenue. Brownback has the perfect solution, though. He thinks the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System’s (KPERS) pension program looks a little bloated. He believes withholding the legally mandated $40 million the state must make to the pension program will go a long way to digging the state out of the budgetary hole that he personally dug.
“It’s kind of, uh, well where are you going to go for the funds? And I don’t like it, but it’s kind of what’s your other option if you don’t hit K-12 and higher ed with allotments?” – Kansas Governor Sam Brownback
Stealing money from the pockets of retirees is definitely not a popular political position to find one’s self in. To shoulder the fleecing of those previously promised the benefits commensurate with a state career, Brownback is now throwing his Republican legislature to the wolves, stating that the lawmakers need to be involved in deciding where to make actual budget cuts. Brownback’s plan to pull money from existing expenditures rather than enact actual cuts and entertain increasing state revenues will effectively kick the can down the road, with the state’s non-partisan legislative research body predicting the budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2015 will almost double to nearly $500 billion. And now, even fellow state Republicans are starting to turn on the beleaguered Brownback.
State Treasurer Ron Estes was one of the first Republicans to criticize the governor’s plan to decimate the KPERS pension program. As a sitting board member of KPERS, Estes’ understands the pension program is already experiencing $9.8 billion in unfunded liabilities. Removing an additional $40 million in mandated funding would be unfairly harsh to those who are, or who soon hope to draw their retirement pension from the fund.
“While I understand the need to re-balance the budget in light of unexpected shortfalls, the decision to delay state contributions to our underfunded pension system is disappointing.” – Kansas State Treasurer Ron Estes
Less polite was Senate President Susan Wagle, (R-Wichita) who is unhappy that Brownback’s very unpopular proposal must first wend its way through the legislature, tying the governor’s political albatross around the neck’s of any who would support it in the statehouse.
Brownback’s inept governance of the state of Kansas has been an abject failure for anyone with an annual net worth that doesn’t meet the threshold of making them important enough for the governor’s empathy and protection. Far from re-energizing the engine of growth in the state, Brownback’s fiscal folly leaves Kansas, according to research conducted by the Kansas City Star, trailing “most other states when it comes to job growth.” If anyone in Kansas is still wondering “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” they need not look further than Cedar Crest in Topeka.
IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr.com
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