Conservative principles and governance
On Monday, Gov. Sam Brownback will deliver his third state of the state address from the chamber of the state House of Representatives. He will be standing before a legislative body that is a liberal's nightmare and a conservative's dream come true. A body that is ready and willing to apply conservative principles to governing Kansas on a day-to-day basis.
So, what does this mean for Kansas' governments?
Conservative principles begin with determining the desired level of taxation and then right-sizing government to match the amount of revenue generated. This is a break from the status quo, which focused on determining the appropriate level of government services and then levying the taxes to pay for these services.
Kansans saw this principle in action last year, when the legislature lowered income tax rates from 6.45 percent to 4.9 percent and reduced the tax rate to zero for pass-through entities (sole proprietors). As a consequence, the state's general fund will have about $780 million less in annual revenue starting this year.
Thus, despite a rosier economic forecast, a number of state agencies will be facing another round of budget cuts this year and most likely next year too.
The next major principle is that government programs hurt the poor because they reduce individual self-reliance and increase the pathology of government dependency and entitlement. So, while "job creators" earn their tax cuts whether they create jobs or not; tax benefits for poorer Kansans to support child and dependent care services or sale tax rebates for their food purchases are not really beneficial to them. By this same token, expanding Medicaid coverage to almost 220,000 lower income Kansans who are currently without health insurance only feeds the growth of the entitlement society (aka Obama voters).
Another major principle is that privatization, competition, and the profit motive leads to efficiency and better delivery of government services. Medicaid in Kansas is about to see this principle in action. The Brownback administration asked for and received a waiver this year from the federal government to contract with private insurance companies for the delivery of Medicaid services to the 380,000 Kansans currently receiving benefits. Next stop, K-12 education.
Although conservative principles of governance eschew the use of coercive government power to regulate the actions of individuals, especially in economic matters, this principle does not apply when it comes to the enforcement of a conservative vision of social order. Today's conservatives believe that gays and lesbians violate God's laws and thus, do not deserve civil rights protection in housing, employment, marriage, and child rearing. There is also an exception for regulating women's reproductive rights. Thus, there will be continued attempts to limit women's access to abortion services as much as possible, even if the state must spend millions on legal fees to defend these new restrictions in federal courts.
Finally, all Republicans must be willing to uphold these principles and a few more. If a GOP officeholder does not toe the conservative line, he/she will be challenged and will likely lose in the Republican primary.
This officially moves the Kansas GOP from being a big tent party, where all are welcome as long as they are generally conservative, to a smaller tent party, where adherence to these conservative principles is paramount even at the expense of losing members who are less dedicated.
With President Obama's re-election, Kansas Republicans will have a common enemy who unites them and polarizes them to deep shades of red for the next four years.
This is more than enough time for today's conservative majority to fundamentally alter the shape and direction of Kansas' governments for generations to come.
Joseph A. Aistrup is a professor of political science at Kansas State University.