Expected state government cuts would have greatest impact on poor, political scientists say at Prairie Village forum

Moderator Sheryl Spalding said the MainStream Coalition had been active in supporting moderate candidates through its political action committee this election cycle.
Moderator Sheryl Spaulding said the MainStream Coalition had been active in supporting moderate candidates through its political action committee this election cycle.

If the prognostications of two political scientists who spoke at a forum hosted by the MainStream Coalition in Prairie Village Wednesday pan out, drastic spending cuts and reductions in service are around the corner in Kansas and will have a significant impact on the state’s least fortunate residents.

University of Kansas political science professor Burdett Loomis and Emporia State political science professor Michael Smith shared their thoughts with an audience of approximately 200 in the basement of Colonial Church who were interested in what the conservative sweep of Kansas in this month’s elections will mean for the state.

Loomis said that while he predicted some “bickering” among the centrist and right wing factions of the Republican party, the conservative contingent of the state legislature had the muscle to enact its agenda in the coming session. That means the prospects of using “revenue enhancements” — increased taxes — to shore up the giant hole in the state’s budget are dim. Categorizing the majority of the legislature and Gov. Brownback as “happy revenues are declining” because of their commitment to small government and low taxes, Loomis said the coming years could see a drastic reduction in spending on services and infrastructure.

“The poorest Kansans will be hurt the most,” he said. “There is not a commitment to good education, to good transportation or to quality social services.”

Smith struck a similar tone, saying the state’s poorer rural areas would bear the brunt of the reduction in services. He noted that the strength of Johnson County’s property tax base would allow it to continue to provide funding for schools should the legislature push more of the school funding burden to the district level. But in communities where houses aren’t worth as much, such a policy change would pose a huge problem.

For example, if you took a $250,000 house in northeast Johnson County and put it in Emporia, it would be worth considerably less, Smith said.

“I worry less about the Prairie Villages of the state than the Emporias of the state,” Smith said.

Loomis said the wave of money that flooded the state to support the flagging campaign of Sen. Pat Roberts after his tepid showing in the primaries ultimately propelled Gov. Sam Brownback to re-election.

“All that money clearly paid off,” Loomis said. “That spending made the electorate more Republican… Pat Roberts had coattails that helped carry Brownback across the line.”

Loomis also noted that the suspended 22,000 voters who were not able to cast a ballot because of the state’s proof-of-citizenship law would not have been able to swing the race for Greg Orman or Paul Davis.

“Voter restrictions didn’t determine the election,” Loomis said. “The reality is most of those people wouldn’t have voted anyway.”

The vast majority of those in the room were supporters of candidates like Davis and Orman, but a handful of conservative legislators and Republican party officials were in the audience of the forum as well, including Sen. Jeff Melcher and Rep. Jerry Lunn.

[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained unclear phrasing regarding the value of real estate in areas outside Johnson County.]

Leawood Sen. Jeff Melcher, a critic of the current education spending levels, was among the conservative Republicans in the audience at Wednesday's MainStream forum.
Leawood Sen. Jeff Melcher, a critic of the current education spending levels, was among the conservative Republicans in the audience at Wednesday’s MainStream forum.