Slipping it in

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(originally run in the Great Bend Tribune, Great Bend, Kans. Jan. 20, 2013 edition)

When I was growing up, my mom made a point of going to the grocery store by herself, rather than dragging us along.  There were several reasons, but mostly because she didn’t like listening to all the pleading to get snacks that weren’t on the list.  

I can’t stand the pleading either, so I am following in my mom’s footsteps.  But now and then, bringing one of the kids along simply can’t be avoided. One of the children, whose name I will not mention, is prone to slipping items into the basket on the sly, in hopes that I won’t notice when I’m at the checkout. I’ve become very observant now—which has really helped to keep my grocery budget under control.

That same scrutiny comes in handy when I sit down to translate political speak into plain English. This week, Governor Sam Brownback gave his annual State of the State speech.  Rather than watch it, the next morning I grabbed the transcript and a pen and began reading and underlining, writing my questions in the margin, and figuring out what it all means.  I haven’t studied like this since I was studying Economics in college. And I admit, I’m torn.  I consider myself a liberal Republican, sometimes a conservative Democrat.  I don’t disagree with everything that Brownback wants to accomplish during his administration, but I disagree with enough of it to take seriously the proposals he makes.  

Consolidating departments and eliminating duplication I agree with. Decluttering is a good thing to do, and if one can do the job, why pay for two?  

ImageBut repealing an 80-plus year tradition of requiring Kansas corporate ownership of agricultural land to be owned and operated by entities that actually reside in Kansas, I am adamantly against. I’m all for the Governor enticing business to locate in Kansas, but not at the expense of the stewardship of our land. Those who have a close, personal stake in the land are the ones who will take the best care of it.

Next, while I’m not sure how much money is needed to provide our children an adequate education, I believe in the authority of the state Supreme Court.  It’s disastrous to suggest that supreme court judges be subject to the political whims of whoever is in power. Changing the constitution because you disagree with the court’s ruling borders on becoming a new chapter of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

And I’m shocked and astonished that Brownback would propose we completely eliminate measures to ensure educational equity in the state by allowing districts to raise unlimited property taxes to fund school districts locally. The spin he put on that really made me feel like I had to get off the ride before I lost my lunch. Many qualified Americans fought long and hard over the years to bring equity to education, and to defend it. We don’t need to Imagehave a state full of haves and have-nots when it comes to something as vital as education. You never know where the next Einstein is lurking. Why, when I moved to rural Kansas ten years ago, I was amazed to find that the district we lived in, which had over 50 percent of the students receiving free and reduced lunch and where the average home sold for less than $100,000 had a higher than average number of National Merit Scholarships. I have to credit that in part to educational equity. 

But as I read on, I felt there was still something missing. I couldn’t put my finger on it until the next day, when I learned about the speech after the speech.  

We all knew the budget shortfall was going to have to be made up somehow. I think it was cowardly of Brownback to not mention his plan during the State of the State address though. Declaring his intention the next day to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction just makes it look like he’s trying to slip something into the cart of goods he’s selling voters.
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The mortgage interest deduction may not be the only motivating factor for buying a home, but it’s at least in the top three to five. In fact, it is taken into consideration when a would-be home purchaser sits down to determine how much house can be purchased. By getting rid of this, Brownback may be able to follow through with cutting income taxes, and that may very well help entice businesses from elsewhere to move here. But at what cost?  Will Kansas simply become one more state where the native population cannot afford to invest in their own state, and be forced to choose to either live as a slave or move on to greener pastures?  

Veronica Coons is a reporter for the Great Bend Tribune. She can be reached at vcoons@gbtribune.com

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The Humane-ity of it all

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This dog is currently at the Great Bend, Kans. Humane Shelter. He looks just like my own dog. For more information about him, take a look at the FB page.

The last time I truly felt helpless was during a recent visit to the Great Bend Humane Society animal shelter, where I came face to face with the dogs and cats that have been brought there  to wait for fate to happen for them. 

Some of the animals are there because they were found running “at large”, while others have been abandoned by owners that can’t care for them anymore.  By that, I mean either they’ve become too old or sick, and no family members are willing to take them in, or the owners lives have changed in some other way, and they are no longer able to keep them.  Some have been abandoned simply because they didn’t “fit”.  Others, because their parents weren’t neutered or spayed. 

It is a tough thing to look through the gate at a loving animal, and know that you are not the one who can take them home and give them the love they need.  I already have all the pets my family can handle, and I only make so much money.  Yet, there is that tug on my heart that asks, “why?  surely you can take in one more?” 

I wish I could help more.  All I can do is photograph them and write a story about the experience, and hope others are touched in some way.  All I can do is love my own pets up and make sure they are cared for to the best of my ability.  And then, I have to turn my back, and walk out the door, listening to the lives behind me as they bark or merely turn in circles, attempting to find that spot where they can be comfortable on the cold floor until someone comes to either give them a forever home, or give them the injection that will take them home to God forever. 

Voice of experience should not be silenced

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image courtesy of April Scarlett, idea mapper.

(originally published in Dec. 30,2012 edition of The Great Bend Tribune, Great Bend, KS)

It’s ironic.  Kansas Governor Sam Brownback wants Kansas to become one of the most hospitable states in the nation for business, but one of the steps he’s taking to do this might spell the end of a proven program that helps business start-ups get off to the right start and offers continuing assistance into the future.  

Earlier this week, I met and visited with Karmi Green at the Prairie Enterprise Project here in Great Bend.  She provides free, confidential business coaching to those starting a new business or tweaking an existing business.

I asked her what she would do if I came into her office and told her I wanted to start a business selling baby blankets.  I was just threw an off-the cuff idea out.  It was the first thing that popped into my head.  Much to my surprise, she smiled and said okay, and began.  

The first thing she would do after visiting and getting to know the client for a while, helping them to define why they wanted to start a business in the first place, would be to have them create a “Back of the envelope business plan.”  We started working through it and as we broke down different aspects of what it would take, I was able to envision a real and viable business.  This could really work, if I really wanted to do it.  If I did, she would have been with me every step of the way from the initial spark to the day I open the doors and on into the future.  Again, all of this absolutely free with confidentiality assured.

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The new year is a time for reflecting and making resolutions.  When I see something I did was a smart move and made my life better, I don’t decide to quit doing it.  As a community, we need to reflect.   As I listened to Green tell about the people she helped as an Enterprise facilitator these past 10 years, I had to wonder why we would allow this project to simply fade away–which it will if a new source of funding isn’t found in the next year.  

What’s this?  I thought it was free, you say.  Well, it is for the business person using her services, but Green still has to eat.  She still has to put gas in her car and needs a phone and a heated office for obvious reasons.  The money comes from somewhere, and that’s been from taxpayers via city and county governments, and through the sale of tax credits via the state government.  It’s a non-profit funded in large part by tax dollars.  Your’s and mine. It’s an expenditure I approve of, like free and public education and the presence of police and fire department personnel.  The reason is, to keep these things funded, people need to have jobs that create the tax dollars that pay for these things, and this program is one really good way of creating jobs.  

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Brownback’s elimination of the sale of tax credits swung a life-threatening blow to the Prairie Enterprise Project.  Funds from the sale of these tax credits make the budget, and the lack of them breaks it.  By charging unearned income tax, the state could provide tax credits for sale.  This will allow the state to eliminate unearned income tax, which in theory would make the state more attractive for starting or locating an existing business.  That means, if you own a business, you don’t pay state income tax on the income derived from the business.  If you only work for the business, you earn your income, and therefore you pay state income tax on it.   

Follow the train of logic here, and it becomes apparent that everyone who resides in Kansas should be grabbing the backs of envelopes and whipping out napkins at local diners and jotting down business plans like mad until they hit on the right one.  If only one percent of them turned out to be a viable plan, think of the jobs that could be created!  I hate to admit it, but I can begin to understand Brownback’s thinking here.  

People who own a business will benefit most from this taxing structure-as long as it is a good and viable business.  For the vast majority of us, it doesn’t pay to own a business that doesn’t pay but offers a tax break.  And that is why we need to keep the Prairie Enterprise Project in business.  We don’t need to have a lot of people enamoured with an idea, but lacking business savvy and experience  creating a bunch of failed businesses.  All that does is stoke the fires of those with “Can’t do” attitudes and cause paralysis among those who have failed but could succeed if they give it another try.  Green is very happy to report she has helped hundreds of people determine their idea simply wouldn’t work the way they first thought it would–saving them thousands of dollars and their pride to boot.   

We as a community financially support projects like the new ballpark or whatever will come of the convention center, so the comparatively small amount of money is not the issue here.  Who knows, some of the businesses that may be born out of the project could grow to use a convention center, or at the very least, sponsor a baseball team.