SECRET Government in Kansas?

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Kicking of 2012 as our guest blogger is Ernestine Krehbiel. Ernestine is the president of the League of Women Voters Kansas. She can be reach at lwv.kansas@gmail.com. This post was published earlier on in the Wichita Eagle.    

A legislator recently asked a League member what we meant by transparency in government since he’d heard it mentioned several times about the redistricting process. To that legislator and all those of our elected leaders, we mean that we demand openness in government and the informed involvement of our citizens in decision making—not decisions by executive or legislative fiat.

Instead of public involvement solving our problems, we now have only hints, rumors and cliffhangers suggesting enormous changes are coming from behind the veil of the governor’s office.

Even the new voting law’s significant changes about what will be required to vote this year still lie largely unexplained to the voters. Calls recently to eight random Kansas counties’ Department of Motor Vehicles offices showed that not even their workers knew about the legal requirement to provide the state-issued, free, photo ID for voting.

In his State of the State speech (1/11/12) will the Governor lead with transparency or will he be vague and then go back behind his curtain to make and push policy drawn up in secret with advice from who knows whom?

The hints suggest big issues. Drastic cuts to state’s income tax which now provides almost one third of the state’s revenue. What will happen to the investments in education, transportation, public safety and other areas crucial to making the state attractive for families and businesses? Will schools have the resources they need to provide an education that helps people compete for good jobs in today’s global economy? Can Kansas really run an effective health care system by putting it into the hands of a rumored for-profit businesses mandated to put income in their own coffers?

To make up for the drastic income tax cuts, will the governor propose putting sales taxes on services? Or utilities and farm equipment as Sec. of Revenue Nick Jordan hinted?

Or will a reduction in state funds just throw the responsibility on local governments to raise property taxes to pay for needed schools and services? (This happened in some counties where his administration eliminated nine SRS offices.) The governor’s plans are secret.

Who will pay more and who will pay less? .

Kansans want their state government to be open and accountable with spending not one penny more than it needs to be. We elect our public officials to be stewards of the state’s future and to do so with open government. We also need an informed and involved public to do this but we can’t do this with secret plans. There must be no secrets in a democracy. That’s why it is so important for the speech that Governor Brownback will give to contain more than just numbers and policy ideas. It should also explain how the process will move forward — specifically how interested Kansans can engage in the debate.

Kansas has a strong tie to the Wizard of Oz, a fictional man behind a curtain pulling secret levers. We do not need real Kansas government conducted secretly behind a curtain. Open government is the essence of democracy.

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