Any Kansan paying the least bit of attention knows right-wing Republicans have wrecked state finance through deficit spending, unfair taxes and excessive debt. Evidence continues to mount that these same ideologues are inflicting costly damage on the administration of state government.
Recent press reports document administrative breakdowns across a number of state agencies. Deficient staffing, inadequate security and a reported rape at Osawatomie State Hospital led federal officials to decertify the hospital and withdraw up to $1 million a month in federal funds. Hospital inspectors reported “the systemic failure to supervise the provision of care, to perform required safety checks and to protect suicidal patients from hanging risks placed all patients receiving services at risk for harm.” Delayed admissions to the hospital also are shifting the financial burden for high-risk patient care onto local hospitals.
Budget cuts and insufficient staffing at state correctional institutions and the Kansas Highway Patrol threaten public safety. Excessive job vacancies at Larned State Hospital are resulting in unprecedented spending on overtime. One-quarter of the social work staff in the Department of Children and Families left their jobs last year, requiring employees without credentials to do the work.
KanCare administrators continue to tangle legitimate claims from local hospitals and providers in red tape and delay payments. The Department of Administration mistakenly sent out an email notifying 3,800 current and former state employees that they had been fired.
Consultants hired to find “efficiencies” in state government also identified a litany of administrative shortcomings in state administration, for example:
• Failure to fill vacant positions, specifically 14 tax auditors and 54 tax collectors in the revenue department, has resulted in revenue losses of $60 million a year.
• 36 inefficient state and state-funded operations located primarily in rural communities could be closed at a saving of $9 million a year.
• Unqualified personnel in state purchasing is costing $5 million a year.
• Poor coordination, turnover and unskilled staff hinders progress in the effective use of information technology and results in lost productivity.
• More effective administration of state-owned and rented vehicles could save $1 million a year.
• Administration of child support enforcement lags behind other states and is costing $600,000 each year.
The list goes on.
The consultants conclude by highlighting a broken budget process that reflects the state’s dismal bond rating, “one of the least favorable for state governments in the United States.”
Gov. Sam Brownback and his lock-step legislative allies now have had five years to demonstrate they could govern, and they are failing. The ideological fog in which they operate is undermining the effective and efficient administration of state government. Top officials, chosen for political connections rather than merit, often are the root of the problem. Well-qualified and experienced appointees are jumping ship. Budget reductions imposed on agencies to pay for reckless tax cuts exacerbate the problem.
As administrative incompetence mounts, Kansas taxpayers foot the bills. But the real losers are the state’s most vulnerable residents and members of the public whose health and safety depends on the delivery of high-quality public services every day.
That is too high a price to pay.
H. Edward Flentje is professor emeritus at Wichita State University.