Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and his administration has made political hay by downsizing government, consolidating agencies and other tactics to make the state run more efficiently and save money. It seems, however, that these tactics are merely parlor games – slight-of-hand tricks to take the public’s eyes off of what is really being done.
Sure, the state is spending less, but at what cost? The funds have to come from somewhere, and local officials like the Barton County Commissioners are finding that counties may be footing the bill.
The most recent example of this is the push by legislators to abolish the mortgage registration fee, the money collected by registers of deeds for each mortgage transaction that has become an important funding source for counties. In Barton County, this fee generated: In 2010, $158,000 (the equivalent of .7 mills); in 2011, $212,000 (.826 mills); 2012, $188,000 (.73 mills); and in 2013, $294,000 (1.097 mills).
The loss of this would mean the money would have to come from, well, it would have to come from property tax increases. Commissioner Jennifer Schartz likened this to an unfunded mandate, shifting the burden to local taxpayers.
So, the county is joining other counties in writing letters to lawmakers urging them to reconsider. The word lawsuit is being used.
Perhaps there isn’t enough political will to make this happen in Topeka, but the fact that it was bandied about at all gives pause.
This follows by a couple of months a similar letter sent to state officials by Barton and 70-some oil and gas producing counties regarding the state’s interpretation of the Oil and Gas Depletion Trust Fund.
The counties threatened to sue the state over money they believe they were owed. Brownback and legislators have since retreated and offered their support.
See a pattern developing? Topeka first suggests the counties shoulder more of the burden, thus making the state’s books look better, then backs away.
If these are such bad ideas, then why float them at all? If the Brownback administration or state agencies involved have to keep backpedaling, then perhaps these tactics were so well thought out in the first place.
Local units of government have very limited resources in the first place, and few options to generate additional revenue. Maybe Brownback should spend more time looking for meaningful reforms and leave us alone.