It’s always nice to get some change back. It’s better still when that big-ticket item you decided to purchase ended up costing less than you were expecting.
Such was the case Friday when the University of Kansas returned $4.5M to the State of Kansas. Apparently, the new pharmacy building on KU’s West Campus came in considerably under budget. So the university properly returned the money to the state.
For a state with a budget crisis that has necessitated funding cuts in social services, arts funding, and education (among other things), this had to be a boon. Perhaps some of those programs could be propped up a bit.
That’s not what Governor Sam Brownback and the State Finance Council elected to do, though. Instead, they allocated the funds to the ongoing Capitol improvement project, which has been refurbishing the state’s capitol building in Topeka for several years now.
To be sure, this is a worthwhile project. The Capitol needs refurbishing, and the project will result in a very nice facility when it’s completed.
However, in the past eight months, the Brownback administration has executed $1M in funding cuts to Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS), vetoed $700,000 in funding for the Kansas Arts Commission and fired its entire staff, and reduced education spending to its lowest level in 20 years. Ostensibly, these cuts were necessary, because the government was facing a budget deficit and had to get its financial house in order.
So when $4.5M unexpectedly dropped out of the sky, wouldn’t it make sense to replace some of the funding these important agencies were forced to do without?
Not apparently to the Brownback administration. According to the article in the The Lawrence Journal-World, the State Finance Council (of which Brownback is the chair), “immediately applied it to the Capitol restoration project.”
Immediately. Meaning there was no delay and no hesitation. It never occurred to anyone to ease the budget crunch for SRS (which announced plans to close nine regional offices), fund the arts commission (whose defunding cost the state approximately $1.5M in matching funds from the NEA and the Mid-America Arts Council), or put some more money into public education.
How we allocate our tax dollars speaks to our priorities. There is currently a national debate over how to cut government spending — which means we are having a national debate over what our priorities are as a society.
Actions reveal our thoughts and character. Governor Brownback and his administration have made a clear statement what their priorities are, and they aren’t social services, the arts, or education. When he vetoed funding for the arts back in May, Brownback said in part, “the state must prioritize how to spend its limited resources and focus its attention on providing core services.”
One wonders, given the allocation of funds to a restoration project rather than social services, what these “core services” the governor refers to are.