“In the end, I believe the goals of the Brownback administration are going exactly to plan — to starve the state of resources to the point where it just makes sense to turn over critical government functions to for-profit entities.”
Jeff Blackwood, CEO, Pathfinder Health Innovations
Jeff Blackwood, as cited recently by the Topeka Capital-Journal, ain’t dumb either. He’s moving his business to Missouri. Maybe it just took him a while to catch on.
Thomas Frank figured it out about 10 years ago in “The Wrecking Crew. How conservatives ruined government, enriched themselves and beggared the nation.” Here’s the plan:
First, run up the debt. For George Bush, it was tax cuts for the wealthiest and unfunded wars. To ordinary, church-going folks who feel obligated by the Lord to pay their bills, debt is a cuss word. Fat cat conservatives cuss out one side of their mouths but grin on the other. They’re crafty.
At the federal level, use blankety-blank debt to privatize whatever you can to make private money — like prisons, now a big business. To understand better, read the Washington Post’s “How for-profit prisons have become the biggest lobby no one is talking about.” (tinyurl.com/nch2rxx) And keep pushing to privatize Social Security and Medicare.
Do away with regulatory agencies. Let businesses behave on their own because they’re really nice. And, if that won’t work at the moment, whack budgets to reduce field staff. Less oversight, more profit. (Heard your local congressman rant about the EPA declaring all mud-puddles “navigable waters?”)
If none of that works, appoint “friendly” regulatory executives. In 2006, Frank was writing about the federal government. In Washington, it’s a wee bit harder. Right-wingers may fuss about it, but feds don’t have a cash-basis budget. That can be a plus for the general welfare, believe it or not. National interest sometimes requires indebtedness to maintain or create infrastructure, to stimulate the economy or cover military adventures. And there’s the Federal Reserve.
The wrecking crew works even better in red states like Kansas, where Brownbackistaners can use debt more effectively, given the balanced budget requirement. So, we’ve seen the refusal to expand Medicaid with federal dollars. KanCare — Brownback’s privatized alternative — has cost Kansas $1.15 billion in possible Medicaid funding. That’s just through April of this year. Getting adequate health care is next to impossible for 150,000 Kansans with inadequate resources. (tinyurl.com/jr3647h)
We’ve seen the “borrowing” of a few billion from KDOT (tinyurl.com/hprpns2). Annual highway maintenance miles consequently dropped by more than 80 percent. The borrowing was to compensate for “unexpected” income shortfalls. (Duh, who’da thunk it?)
Those trickle-down income tax breaks were supposed to create “the rising tide that lifts all boats.” And, of course, if the waves don’t deliver, triple the tax on cigarettes. Raise taxes on booze by 50 percent. Raise the sales tax on groceries. (The big boys can afford all those, so they won’t care.)
At more than 60 percent of State General Fund expenditures — the latest figure I found — public education is a juicy apple for debt-rationalizing privatizers.
According to the website Private School Review, there are 247 private schools in Kansas with a combined enrollment of nearly 43,000. Annual tuition for grade and junior high students is close to $5,000; high school kids, just more than $11,000. Eighty-four percent are operated by religious institutions, and corporations are licking their chops.
The effort by churches and private companies to suck away more public money, especially in places like Brownbackistan, will be unrelenting — and likely attempted incrementally — little by little:
Consider the relentless efforts to approve school vouchers. If not vouchers, then tax credits — both amounting to loss of public school funding. Consider the constant attacks on teachers’ right to fair hearings and the right to organize. Consider the proposal to privatize (or delay payments to) KPERS. Consider the effort to promote creationism as science, to approve preacher-teacher led school prayer, both in public schools.
Frankly, as a former public school teacher in better days, I wonder what solid college student would want to teach in Kansas public schools. Then, as the best qualified shy away, that will be another incremental plus for privatizers.
For the moment, not much we can do about it. Crafty Brownback’ll be in Cedar Crest until Jan. 14, 2019.
Then surely comes his sweet lobby job or something better.
Well, I read that former governors from both parties — Kathleen Sebelius, Mike Hayden, John Carlin and Bill Graves — are asking us to get to the polls and boot Brownback’s flunkies.
I hope you’ll help.
Bob Hooper, a fourth-generation western Kansan, writes from his home in Bogue.