Letter to the editor — April 17, 2015

Circle the wagons, rural Kansans, the conservative representatives and senators of our urban centers and our governor are out to destroy your rural infrastructure — normally funded by state revenues. Apparently, they hate bills that help those of us that live in rural areas and recent legislation proves it! Slashing funding to poor and rural schools, hospitals and roads to balance a state budget that provides tax cuts for people that don’t need them seems to be the order of the day in Topeka, as does the disregard for the damage such an approach does to keeping viable the communities of rural Kansas.
Conservative politicians in Johnson, Sedgwick and Shawnee counties might be surprised to learn, but our state is bigger in area than all of New England combined — Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island would all fit inside Kansas. But at 2,904,021 we don’t have the 14,680,722 people that live in New England. As a percentage of land use, our state is the most “private” of all the 50 states. We have less public land than any other and we are thinly populated, which means infrastructure funding is a challenge and helps explain why our per capita cost for state and local government always ranks among the top five states in the country. Per capita we do pay a lot for state and local government. With 105 counties and hundreds of school districts for a thinly populated state, it is expensive to provide local services and that cost explains the relatively high level of property taxes that we pay in the state. But it’s been this way for 150 years!
On this challenge of paying for the infrastructure of a largely rural state, former Governor John Carlin — originally from the tiny town of Smolan — addressed our Iola economic development group a few years ago and understood this when he said that Kansas and its various levels of local government needed numerous and diverse revenue sources to appropriately support the infrastructure in the state, to include Federal funding, where appropriate. Our miles of roads and highways, for example, are huge. The last time I saw the statistics, of the 50 states, Kansas was only behind Texas and California in the number of miles of road to maintain.
What’s the matter with Kansas? And why am I on a soapbox in the local newspaper with a letter to the editor? I am angry because our conservative urban political leaders don’t seem to think rural communities are important anymore. As a life-long rural resident and volunteer in economic development, I am upset that the current crowd in Topeka has threatened to destroy in two years what I and my small-town contemporaries have labored as volunteers for over three decades to maintain — the viability of the counties and the communities in which we live. We work hard every day to keep jobs in our towns and counties — to keep viable the small county-seat towns, farming communities, regional retail centers and small manufacturing towns. Everyone should know that to keep jobs and bring in new ones to any community big or small, adequate education funding, access to health care and good highways are essential components for the survival of any community.
The Legislature and the current governor have attacked all three, consistently. They have targeted education, health care and highways. The unwillingness to appropriately fund K-12 education — in per-pupil dollars spent — hits hard most rural school districts. The rejection by Kansas of the Medicaid extension is jeopardizing the financial survival of most if not all rural hospitals in the state. Partially covering the tax-cut created budget shortfall by gutting of the state highway fund — a resource which was created by the sale of 20-year highway bonds that have to be paid back over the next 10-plus years — jeopardizes the access to and from our rural communities for now and a decade to come.
What’s the matter with Kansas? Its urban conservative leaders seem to deny that Kansas is an agricultural state — yet two of its three largest industries are grain and cattle — the third is airplanes. Our leaders — again, mostly from urban counties in the state — hate the rural part of the state, I am told, and it sure seems to be true. Our governor — who apparently has forgotten he grew up in Parker, Kansas — endorses policies that are destroying the lifestyle he enjoyed in his youth.
As the legislative leaders are in recess, what should we in rural Kansas do? (It’s not just western or eastern Kansas — it’s urban versus rural Kansas — make no mistake.) Be sure your legislators know how you feel. Our governor and the legislative leaders — primarily from our urban centers, who run the House and the Senate in Topeka — are taking all of us in rural Kansas down a path that endangers all of our small town communities. 
A betrayed and angry rural volunteer.
Jim Gilpin
502 East Madison
Iola, Kansas

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