Each fall, the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University takes on a public-service project designed to gauge the state of mind of state residents. The in-depth public opinion survey assesses Kansans' satisfaction level with state government and policies -- free from the influence of outside funding.
The result is Kansas Speaks. A synopsis of the survey was presented in an eight-page publication that was inserted in The Hays Daily News on Sunday. The fifth annual such survey offers a snapshot of the state's collective mood on a variety of subjects. That mood, as succinctly summarized by FHSU political science professor and Docking senior research fellow Chapman Rackaway, is "uncertain." And contradictions are abundantly present in the results.
Take the opinions about Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, for example. Thirty-five percent of respondents are satisfied with his performance, while 41 percent are dissatisfied. Looking ahead to 2014 when the governor will stand for re-election, almost 56 percent of those polled do not plan on voting for Brownback.
To nobody's surprise, the governor's support is strongest amongst Republicans. The more a Kansan earns, votes and attains education, the less likely they are to support Brownback. He polls particularly bad with females.
The numbers suggest Brownback is destined to get crushed next year, yet time will tell. This is Kansas, after all. His likely Democratic opponent, Paul Davis, represents yet another faction with poor traction amongst Kansans -- the Legislature. The House minority leader wasn't singled out by name, but if there is guilt by association he might have trouble: Only 27 percent of those polled were satisfied with the job done by legislators.
A majority of Kansans (55 percent) believe spending by state government should either stay the same or increase. Only 44 percent say state spending should decrease, although that is what elected officials in Topeka are doing. Similar disconnects exist with the three types of taxes imposed. Only 11 percent of respondents think significant reductions in income tax are the way to go; state leaders are going with it. Seventeen percent of those polled believe a slight sales tax increase is necessary; enough lawmakers and the governor do to make it law. And less than 9 percent support any kind of increase in property taxes; thus far most local governments are keeping that in check.
A full two-thirds of residents believe K-12 public education spending should increase. As the governor and Legislature are expected to ignore a majority of the Kansas Supreme Court who will demand that increase take place, we wouldn't expect elected officials to pay much heed in this area.
There is only an extremely small minority of Kansans who think spending should be decreased for K-12, social services, and colleges and universities. As these areas make up approximately three-quarters of the state budget, and state leaders already have decided to eliminate a third of state revenue with income tax cuts, the only way these conflicting forces don't collide is if Kansas experiences an economic miracle. Don't count us in the camp of those holding their breath.
There is good news in Kansas Speaks, and one almost all of us can agree with: Kansas is a good place to live. Less than 13 percent rate the state as a fair, poor or very poor place to reside. Everyone else says Kansas is good, very good or excellent.
We'll need that optimism moving forward.
We appreciate the Docking Institute's efforts to get a finger on the pulse of the Sunflower State. Kansas Speaks provides an opportunity to expand our conversation. If only we will listen to what we are saying ...
The full report can be found at www.fhsu.edu/docking/Kansas-Speaks/
Editorial by Patrick Lowry