Our state is in such a financial mess right now that its esteemed governor has been reduced to asking random audience members at his speeches for advice on how to fix it.
I witnessed this last week when Governor Sam Brownback made an appearance at the Venue in downtown Chanute. He spent most of the speech expertly dodging questions asked by a wide assortment of area residents. He also tried to paint as sunny a picture as possible on recently released numbers showing that Kansas revenues fell $90 million short of expectations last year. There is currently an $800 million budget gap between revenues and expenditures, the kind of financial numbers that don’t make our esteemed and highly-regarded governor look very fiscally conservative.
Brownback made vague assertions about improved employment numbers and economic growth. He did talk about some of the steps being taken to try to balance the budget, which so far seem to consist of squeezing as much money as possible out of the state’s already-overtaxed drinkers and smokers.
Then Brownback told the local citizens who were masochistic enough to sit through his entire speech that if they had any further ideas on how to raise revenues, they should feel free to present them to him.
I found it both surprising and refreshing that our illustrious governor would seek the advice of anyone in this cash-strapped state without the last name “Koch.” It’s almost like he’s turning over a new leaf. So, I am generously taking him up on his offer and dishing out some free advice. I know how much our always-open-minded governor enjoys receiving suggestions and guidance from socially liberal, beer-swilling heathen journalists.
With that in mind, I have some common-sense suggestions for ways the state can improve its financial numbers.
Stop lawsuits over divisive social issues- The state has racked up big legal fees, fighting federal rulings on abortion and gay marriage this year. While there’s plenty of room for honest disagreement among the public on such issues, paying attorneys to fight the federal government is a big waste of money. This is particularly true when the U.S. Supreme Court will be hashing out the legal details of these issues for a long time whether or not the state of Kansas is involved at all. Surely, there are better uses for state funds than this kind of useless legal grandstanding.
Bring back concealed-carry permits- Earlier this month, the governor signed a bill to strip away the need for a concealed carry permit for legal gun owners who want to carry their weapons in public. Of course, how we don’t know how law enforcement is supposed to know if someone doing that is a legal gun-carrier if no one has any kind of permit for their weapons. I guess there’s no room for logical questions when NRA campaign money is up for grabs. How this relates to the state’s budget is that those gun owners who applied for concealed-carry permits previously had to pay $100 to the state for the privilege of carrying a firearm around with them anywhere they wanted to go. Approximately 75,000 people have such permits, which has netted the state about $7.5 million. Repealing the need for these permits means that the state will no longer be receiving these fees, which isn’t a very smart move for a state that needs revenue.
Legalize marijuana-Colorado, our neighbor to the west, saw tax revenues from the legal sale of marijuana of between $50-60 million in 2014. That number is expected to climb to more than$100 million in 2016. I’m not claiming that these kinds of numbers would be achieved if we took a similar step here in this state. We’re not going to match the scenery and amenities available to tourists in Colorado; I would feel sorry for any family that wanted to take a Kansas ski vacation. Still, marijuana is being sold and used in this state and Kansas gets no financial benefit from it. In fact, in locking people up in jail for the use of this naturally-grown plant that has never been proven to have directly killed anyone, it has been a financial drain. We could balance our budget if we stopped prosecuting users and legal marijuana dispensaries here did a third as much business as they do in Colorado. Plus, being legally stoned would likely make it easier to deal with the fact that Sam Brownback was elected twice.
With brilliant ideas like this, I am available for hire if the state needs a new financial adviser. I may not really know what I am doing, but I couldn’t do much worse than the bunch there now.
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