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Pondering the new 'bleeding' Kansas

Published on -5/8/2013, 10:04 AM

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I have been scratching my head trying to understand what the fuss is all about in bringing gaming to southeast Kansas. It seems like a no-brainer to me, but it is obvious that some legislators in Topeka have their panties in a bunch about it for some reason, and what is bunching them up is confusing. At least to me. I suspect it has as much to do with partisanship as it does principle, but I could be wrong on that. In New York, we would be saying, "follow the money."

But in Kansas, it is more complicated than that. For some Kansas politicians, embracing gaming as a form of economic development is probably akin to allowing same sex marriage. It is a cultural, moral and religious taboo. It is not viewed, as by now it should be, as merely an economic development issue. Such issues are still too morally tinged in the heart of the purist to take up the cause.

Which gets me to the governor. He is desperate for revenue to plug the huge hole he himself created in the Kansas budget. Where is the governor on the issue of gaming in southeast Kansas? Nowhere to be found. That's not good enough for an area that is starved for jobs and economic vitality, and that is bleeding money with all the Kansas gamers going to Oklahoma with their slot machine nickels and dimes.

Perhaps the perceived moral issue is why the governor doesn't seem to want to touch it with a 50-foot pole. The reality is though, when you find yourself in deep doo doo from a revenue standpoint, you need to exhaust all of the alternatives to raising taxes. It simply makes sense for the governor to weigh in on this issue, end the paralysis and get the job done.

That is the mark of a true leader. Nothing happens when the top guy is absent from the mix, and when nothing happens, jobs are lost, and money still continues to bleed out of Kansas into Oklahoma casino coffers. All of this is resulting from the leadership vacuum on this issue.

How do we put an end to this new "Bleeding Kansas"? We fix it, that's how, and exhaust all possible alternatives to simply increasing taxes. It is within the governor's reach to do so. He just might have to step up to the plate and get his hands a little dirty to do it, however, since it is his people who are standing in the way of progress.

And, I am a little confused about where our state Sen. Jake LaTurner stands on this issue. Maybe I am too old and he is too young, but in my experience, you don't get very far by telling someone who is considering investing tens of millions of dollars in his district to "put up or shut up." That kind of language cannot be helpful. Is it just the brash arrogance of youth and his inexperience talking? He also says that he can't get the attention of the more conservative leaders of his own Republican Party to push for a solution, let alone get the ear of his confrere, Gov. Brownback.

What? I thought he was part of that conservative group aligned with Gov. Brownback who helped to oust the more seasoned and more reasoned Republican Sen. Bob Marshall. Can't Jake LaTurner get his blood brothers in the conservative wing of his party to help him win one for southeast Kansas?

So, why it is such a tangled web to unweave in a way that would benefit southeast Kansas, and indeed all of Kansas by generating and replacing revenue that has been lost with unfunded tax cuts, may be beyond me, but is not beyond Gov. Brownback and Sen. LaTurner to fix. One thing is clear: Gaming is here to stay. It generates jobs and revenue, and in these times, governments need revenue desperately. Rep. Bob Grant is spot on when he says 22 percent of something is better than 40 percent of nothing.

And why not get really creative and dedicate some of the gaming revenue for higher education in each region of the state where there is gaming? It might even help solve Pitt State's between a rock and a hard place need to advocate for keeping the 0.6 percent sales tax on the books.

There are lots of different ways to slice the apple, but no matter how you slice it, LaTurner faces a test of leadership on this issue, and until he steps up to the plate in serious adult fashion, and brings home the bacon on this one, it is not only freshman Sen. LaTurner, but all of southeast Kansas that will be the loser.

And you too, Gov. Brownback. Southeast Kansas needs your leadership on this important issue. It might even be a better way of robbing the poor to pay for tax cuts for the rich than charging them a 0.6 percent tax on food they buy.

How about it Sam? Are you going to suit up and get into the game, or play tiddlywinks on the sidelines?

John T. Sullivan, Pittsburg, is an attorney and part-time professor of political science at Pittburg State University, Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in Miami, Okla.

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