11/03/2017

A warning from Kansas: Don't do what we did

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An AFT member is warning the rest of the country not to try this stunt: gutting public services under the delusion that you can cut your way to prosperity.

What happened in Kansas instead was a dangerous lapse in essential services. Ever since Gov. Sam Brownback began enacting his ruinous tax-cutting experiment in 2009, that state has been increasingly unable to pay its bills. The tab has grown larger and large, becoming so big that the Legislature had to override the governor's veto in August just to pay for the bare-bones expenses it already had incurred.

Sarah LaFrenz speaking at Capitol Hill rally

Addressing a Nov. 1 rally in Washington, D.C., Sarah LaFrenz, a state water scientist from Topeka and a union steward for the Kansas Organization of State Employees, described the trickle-down economics that failed in Kansas. She warned that Republicans' latest tax scam—introduced Nov. 2 in the U.S. House of Representatives and this time aimed at our whole country—is a massive giveaway to millionaires, billionaires and corporations, and that to pay for it, the money would come from us, the middle class.

The fiasco in Kansas, said the mother of three, is incredibly personal for her because everyone she knows has been hurt by cuts that have resulted in 25 percent fewer state employees: correctional officers, social workers, nursing home inspectors and people who regulate environmental (such as air and water) quality. Educators there have been forced to shorten the school week. In fact, LaFrenz said, Kansas schools are so underfunded that the state supreme court has ruled the Legislature violated its constitutional mandate to provide adequate public education.

"I am here today to implore you all to learn from Kansas," LaFrenz told ralliers on Capitol Hill. "When they decide to starve our public services in order to give tax cuts to rich folks, our lives are endangered, we are harmed, and sometimes we lose people altogether."

What does she mean by losing people? LaFrenz explained at a Senate hearing after the rally; in a nutshell, she is referring to consequences like these:

  • After privatizing its foster care system, Kansas discovered that foster children have gone missing. "Kansas literally lost more than 70 children because it had to trim spending to pay for tax cuts," LaFrenz told Senate Democrats in Washington.
  • Kansas has endured two prison riots since June — both directly related to chronic understaffing and overcrowding.
  • The state's sole nuclear power plant, operating since 1985, requires maintenance, oversight and testing to ensure that people nearby are safe. Yet, the state radiochemistry lab is unstaffed. Not understaffed, but vacant. For more than two years, no one in Kansas has been testing samples for radiation.

Read LaFrenz's prepared testimony. Find out more about the GOP's proposed tax scam. And join AFT members in opposing this boondoggle.

[Annette Licitra]