Thursday, January 14, 2016

Fix state government for real

A team of efficiency experts delivered a $2.6 million study to the poltroons who run Kansas government this week. The gist of their findings: There’s $2 billion to be saved between now and 2022 if Gov. Brownback and his legislative lackeys impose crappy medical insurance on state and school workers, privatize Medicaid administration, deny poor expectant mothers access to doctors and adopt other petty cost-saving recommendations that inflict pain on the powerless.
Screw the usual suspects again, in short, and our state’s zombie-budget years are over. No need to ask the (non) Job Creators exempted from business and personal income taxes a few years back to contribute a little more to the common good. Why, it’s even possible that flogging the helpless could end the gang rape of the highway fund.
Being a liberal-arts major, I'm not qualified to question the math supporting the efficiency experts’ conclusions. But you don't need a doctorate in finance to understand that they jiggered their findings to fit the mean-spirited proclivities of their clients, while wisely not asking said clients to inflict pain on anyone important. If that weren’t so, the experts would have identified the glaring structural flaws that have plagued state government for generations. They’d have recommended steps to lower the trajectory of Kansas public spending while making governance itself more elegant and, um … what’s the word I want? Oh, yes: efficient.
To prove that I’m not full of crap, let me throw out a few ideas:
● Eliminate the office of state treasurer and fold its functions – chiefly banking and investing state funds – into the Department of Revenue.
● Eliminate the office of secretary of state while returning control of local elections in Johnson, Sedgwick, Shawnee and Wyandotte counties to the elected clerks of those counties. No more incompetent county election commissioners, in short. Create a bipartisan state commission to oversee elections in Kansas. Farm the office’s other functions out to the Department of Administration.
● Make Kansas commissioner of insurance an appointive office and capture the millions it collects in fees from insurance companies for general-fund use.
● Declare Kansas a single school district governed by the Department of Education and overseen by the elective State Board of Education. As part of this reform, mandate that each schoolchild in Kansas receive appropriately weighted state aid directly. If that’s too daunting a challenge, mandate that there be one school district per county, reducing the total from 286 to 105. And please cut the State Board of Education from 10 members to five. It’s so pointlessly cumbersome now.
● Cut the size of the Legislature in half – from 40 to 2o senators; and from 125 to 63 representatives.(Colorado, a larger state by far, gets by just fine with 35 senators and 65 representatives.) The result would be much larger Kansas Senate and House districts, most of which would include urban, suburban and rural voters. Fair-minded, sensitive legislators (a huge improvement over the current lot) would be the byproduct of this new environment.
● Base legislators’ pensions on their salaries for the four-month session. Current pension law pretends they work year-round and earn about $90,000 per year. Added bonus: Ending this pension grab would breathe a little life into the beleaguered Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.
How much money would these reforms save? I have no idea. Maybe the experts could work up some estimates in return for the $2.6 million they’re pocketing. But the savings would be substantial – and permanent.
Most of these reforms would require constitutional amendments, while a few could be handled with simple statutes. Passage of any of them would be hard. But if Brownback and his lackeys are serious about right-sizing state government, they’ll look for real inefficiencies and attack them, regardless of whose feelings get hurt. If they settle, this election year, for once again savaging the usual suspects and doing nothing more, our suspicions that their hearts are chilly and their brains small will be borne out.
I will post more ideas for reinventing state government as they occur to me. I also invite commenters to pitch ideas of their own. dc