What will Kansas do with its extra $3 billion?

While you struggle to make ends meet in Kansas, the state government has felt no ill effects of the inflation, or at least its bank account hasn’t.
Thanks to the overprinting of cash in Washington, D.C., and dishing it out like candy to the states, counties and other local units of government, some areas of the country with conservative legislatures have been able to prevent overspending and have actually kept some of the additional cash.
Kansas is one of them, and the additional funds add up to more than $3 billion. That’s with a B.
Of course if you ask those at the state, $3 billion doesn’t go very far these days.
Still, it’s a lot of cash, but we have to be smart on what to do with it. This is a one-time windfall, we hope. States with such large surpluses are either taxing their state too much or receiving more than needed federal aid, which means others are being taxed too much elsewhere.
If you believe printing more money or borrowing it is a good thing, your grandchildren who will pay the price down the road may disagree. Experiencing a better life today at the expense of our future is actually a violation of the Preamble of the Constitution which requires us to “secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.”
Most generations have been willing to do that, to sacrifice their own desires for a better future.
But our addiction to a quality of life without the means to afford it by not doing the work and advancing through the sweat of our brow will leave the next generation with a lower standard of living.
Already, young people cannot afford to buy a home, and many are deciding not to have children because of the expense of raising a family. Day care alone is a crippling expense.
Despite all of that, Kansas has an extra $3 billion burning a hole in its pocket, and I’m sure Governor Laura Kelly will outline some tempting ways to blow it in the next State of the State Address.
Most of those proposals will probably drive more people to rely on the government gravy train continuing to deliver cash payments, which it won’t be able to do unless it taxes the people more to support whatever programs are proposed. In other words, more government simply results in the redistribution of wealth, taking from those who work to give to those who don’t.
With this one-time cache of cash in the bank, there are a few ideas that won’t result in additional government dependence while putting the money to work for the people of Kansas.
Expand Highway 54 to four lanes.
At a recent consultation visit with the Kansas Department of Transportation, the discussion of four-laning Highway 54 to Wichita was just under $1 billion.
That would leave the state $2 billion after correcting a historic wrong in leaving a full quarter of the state without an adequate four-lane connection to the rest of the state. Perhaps it is slightly more than the fiar share, providing a third of the money to a fourth of the state, but Southwest Kansas has been patiently waiting for more than 70 years when President and Kansas Dwight D. Eisenhower declared Highway 54 an high priority corridor, so getting a slightly higher benefit isn’t asking that much.
Reduce state debt.
Interest at the federal level has become one of the largest expenditures of our tax dollars. Kansas also carries its share of debt for bonded projects and other improvements made with borrowed money. By paying that debt down now, interest will be reduced, permanently enhancing the economic condition of Kansas while simultaneously reducing the future tax burden on all Kansans.
Avoid gimmicks.
A recent Democratic proposal is to return to the days of the ad valorem payments to counties and cities with a portion of the overage. They claim this will reduce local taxes.
That is a fallacy. While both Liberal and Seward County have done a good job recently of keeping property taxes low, if the state wrote them a check, I am sure they have projects waiting in the wings to fund. And more ideas of how to spend will be right behind those.
Sometimes government employees are accused of not being very imaginative. I disagree. Write them a check with no strings attached and I guarantee you they will come up with a million ways to spend it, and very few if any of those ways ever result in property tax reductions.
When one taxing entity is giving money to another taxing entity, someone did something wrong. Money should start local and stay local whenever possible.
Let it ride.
The best thing the state can do if it doesn’t follow these other suggestions would be to do nothing before doing something stupid. If the money sits there, it will accumulate a solid amount of interest if nothing else. I was contemplating the suggestion of a fund that would be somewhat of an endowment to the State of Kansas and only spending the interest off the money and protecting the principal.
There’s nothing wrong with a rainy day fund. Kansas will not always have a surplus, and who knows what financial challenges will come along in the next few years.
The state has it. Let’s not waste it.

Editor | watt@kaninfo.com

Earl Watt is the owner and publisher of the Leader & Times in Liberal, Kansas. Watt started his career in journalism in 1991 at the Southwest Daily Times. During his career, the newspaper has won a total of 17 Sweepstakes awards from the Kansas Press Association for editorial content and 18 Sweepstakes awards for advertising. Watt has been recognized with more than 70 first place awards for writing in categories from sports and column to best front pages, best sports pages and best opinion pages. Watt is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution and is the descendant of several patriots who fought for America's freedom and independence.