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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