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SPOTLIGHT
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Kansas Speaks

Published on -10/24/2012, 11:09 AM

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If art imitates life, then one would expect most Kansans realize there's no place like home. Just in case Dorothy wasn't speaking for the Sunflower State past, present and future, however, public opinion surveys are used to gauge the sentiment.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the vast majority of residents believe the state is a good place to live according to the latest "Kansas Speaks" survey. Conducted by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University, more than 95 percent of people surveyed rated Kansas anywhere from fair to excellent. A mere 4.2 percent labeled the state as poor or worse.

Such optimism doesn't surprise us. Despite the ribbing we receive from the rest of the country, Kansans by and large believe we're in a great location. The ratings weren't quite as high as they were in 2009, the first year Docking conducted the annual Kansas Speaks survey.

Gary Brinker, director of the Docking Institute, said the survey fits the organization's mission to serve the government and nonprofit entities of Kansas.

"As the Docking Institute continues to provide this service to the citizens of Kansas, our hope is that Kansas Speaks will allow our state legislators and policy-makers to better respond to the will of the people and foster a more democratic state government," Brinker said.

We're not sure how elected officials will decipher the "will of the people" from these results, however. Seeming contradictions abound, while other responses don't seem to match reality. Particularly since the survey didn't get underway until May 21, after the Legislature had completed its work for the session.

For example, 65 percent of all respondents believed income tax rates should stay the same or go up. Almost 78 percent of self-identified Republicans felt that way. When participants were questioned, it was well-known the GOP-dominated Statehouse already had set it motion the session's signature accomplishment -- a significant decrease in income taxes. That didn't prevent the majority of Kansans from refusing to be dissatisfied with either the Legislature or Gov. Sam Brownback. Basically only Democrats and highly educated individuals found these two branches of government lacking. Strong Republicans either were moderately or extremely satisfied with Brownback (73 percent) and the Legislature (61 percent).

When examining state funding for particular sectors, very little support was expressed to decrease spending on social services (7.1 percent), K-12 schools (8 percent) or state colleges and universities (15.9 percent). Yet the only way funding for any of these critical segments does not go down is if the economic renaissance promised by the governor actually takes place. While Brownback and paid consultant Arthur Laffer believe the "experiment" will work, Kansans aren't so sure.

When asked in the survey how concerned they were that the Kansas economy would seriously threaten them or their families' welfare, only 11.9 percent of respondents were not concerned.

With the lone exception of 18- to 24-year-olds, large majorities of every other demographic were slightly, moderately or very concerned the state economy is going to hit them directly.

In short, Kansans overall advocate economic policies that are 180 degrees different from the governor and conservative-dominated Legislature -- yet are willing to stay the course. In fact, with the primary election, Kansans ousted most of the moderate Republicans who were willing to stand up to the governor. So we know whose policies will carry the day, and worries the resulting economy will negatively affect us likely will come true.

Yet we still believe Kansas is a good place to live.

That's the power of positive thinking.

If you didn't see the Kansas Speaks study in Sunday's Hays Daily News, results can be found at www.fhsu.edu/docking. Click on the Kansas Speaks tab.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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