98.9% of Kansas may die next month

January 21st, 2010

My subject line is a little over-dramatic, but only a little.

Like many states, Kansas is facing a severe budget problem. Last year, the state cut many programs to the bone and beyond. Nursing homes, schools, universities, and charities have all been hard-hit. A 10% cut in Medicaid reimbursement rates and similar cuts to education have been devastating. Institutions are wondering how they can survive.

Here’s the thing: in rural communities, the very survival of the community is often dependent upon the survival of its schools, nursing home, hospital, or college. Take any one of those things away and the community begins a slow and painful death. This has happened over and over, and right now the Kansas legislature has a simple choice: Do they make a temporary 1% increase in sales tax, and also some increases in tobacco/alcohol taxes, or not?

If they do, they can get funding back to normal levels. If they do not, funding will be cut even further, which will certainly cripple many institutions.

There are a lot of people opposed to this tax. I’m not one of them; I think it’s key to the survival of our rural communities and the competitiveness of the state as a whole.

98.9% of Kansas is rural.

See the gravity of the situation?

Please, if you are a Kansas resident, write your representatives and leave a comment here saying you did (and what you wrote, if you like). The easiest way to find your state senator and representative is to go to a state website, then scroll down to “information by county”, click on your county, and then click on the districts to see a map if you need one. (The find by address feature seems to be hopelessly broken.)

Here’s what I wrote:

Subject: Please raise my taxes

I write with a request I don’t make lightly: please raise my taxes, and support the 1% sales tax increase with the 3-year sunset provision.

The consequences of failing to do so are terrible. Losing nursing homes or schools would mean the long-term death of many rural communities. Our community leaders are fearing not just for nursing homes being gone; there is a real threat of entire communities facing a slow extinction.

The 10% Medicaid cuts already made are having a devastating impact on many quality institutions, and if left in place for any length of time could result in quality organizations closing, or refusing to accept Medicaid. And even deeper cuts are being contemplated. Even for those that plan well and have long term care insurance would be harmed if the nursing homes they might contemplate living in one day have closed due to today’s Medicare cuts.

I fear for our schools as well. Our two boys will be of school age
soon, and we live in a district that is of one of Kansas’ exceptionally strong rural schools. So far, our school is coping, but I am concerned about the drive to consolidate our rural schools, which would result in unreasonable travel distances and would be unlikely to duplicate the excellence of the schools we have now.

I fear for our early childhood and university systems; without a good beginning in life, Kansas will face higher costs later. Without an affordable university system, Kansas will be less competitive.

If small communities lose their schools, nursing homes, college students, or hospitals, some of them won’t survive as towns. This hurts everyone in the state.

When my wife and I moved from Indianapolis to rural Kansas in 2002, we, like many homebuyers, carefully studied the quality of schools and medical facilities available. If Kansas wants to be able to attract residents and the businesses that want a qualified labor pool, it must remain competitive. Forcing our best institutions to close — a permanent problem — over a short-term budget problem isn’t going to help with that at all. It will hurt all of Kansas, rural and urban alike, if vast portions of our state become less attractive due to these problems. We likely would not have moved to the state at all if its rural communities were dead or dying. How many taxpaying Kansans will we lose if we let their communities suffer?

Americans these days have plenty of choices where to live. I don’t see many people choosing where to live based on a 1% difference in sales tax. I do see plenty of people making decisions based on quality of schools, hospitals, universities, roads, and even nursing homes.

Please help save our rural communities and keep Kansas — all of it — competitive.

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  1. John Goerzen

    Terah pointed out that I never explained the “next month” bit. The Kansas legislature only convenes for a few months of the year, and it is probable that the general direction for the budget will be nailed down by the end of next month.

    Reply

  2. Walt Rorie-Baety

    Hmm, I’m torn. On the one hand, I know how people suffer by over-extending themselves in good times, and refusing to give up on the fun stuff later, until they can’t afford the fun stuf or the essentials. On the other hand, I’m a natural-born jerk, and a libertarian with socially conservative tendencies (did I mention what a jerk I am?) On the gripping hand, I also have a socially liberal side, too.

    If I had my druthers, I’d suggest some way for the local churches to make a deal to “pick up the slack” from a social services standpoint, with some tax relief as part of that deal. I don’t know what the tax structure is on churches in Kansas, though, so I don’t know if it’s even helpful to have that kind of deal.

    Not to mention, I don’t know how strong the church network is in your neck of the…prairie. Also, there may be an opportunity for non-church-based social clubs to come back in vogue.

    I don’t like to see people suffer, but I also don’t like to see people sitting around waiting for the State to do for them, when they could do for each other, and reinforce community ties in the process.

    Definitely, this is a time for tough decisions.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    It’s not quite that simple. Check out http://www.longtermcare.gov/LTC/Main_Site/Paying_LTC/Costs_Of_Care/Costs_Of_Care.aspx for some facts.

    The average cost of nursing home care runs $70,000 to $80,000 per year depending on type of room. Even people that have saved as much as possible over their lives, been responsible and upright citizens, may not have enough to pay for years of nursing care. It is quite routine to have a stay in a nursing home completely wipe out someone’s assets, then find them completely impoverished and on Medicaid.

    Reply

  3. American

    The problem with raising taxes “temporarily” is that “temporary” means permanent. In AR they do this over and over, slap “temporary” on some new tax to get people to think “oh well, it’s just for a little while” but in the 3-5 years everyone’s used to paying it, the government is dependent on it and people have forgotten, so the government quietly passes something that removes the temporary bit.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    I’ve heard that argument, and I don’t buy it.

    The law under consideration has a sunset provision. That means that the increase automatically expires after 3 years and things go back to the way they were before. This has been done many, many times all over the country without a necessarily permanent increase.

    Reply

  4. Michael Hendricks

    According to KU (http://www.ipsr.ku.edu/ksdata/ksah/population/2pop25.pdf) only 28% of Kansas is rural, by population. The USDA puts the number at around 36% (http://www.ers.usda.gov/stateFacts/KS.htm).

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    I have no reason to doubt that number; but I was speaking based on land area, not population.

    Reply

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