I say all this because we are at a point of no return. We either step up and correct what is not working or the state, at some point soon, will be in a hole so big that getting out just may not be possible. Making these corrections will, from my experience, require at least two actions to take place. First, will be the incredible importance of quality and sustained communication from the Kelly administration to the Legislature and the people of Kansas. Kansans must understand the massive problems we face. Second, citizens need to participate, speak up, and let the Legislature know they expect (and will support) action in addressing these challenges.
The reality is that quality state government has been totally decimated as a result of the disastrous Brownback years. Public education, as it should, gets lots of attention and, to a lesser extent, the need to take care of our infrastructure is known. Both these areas must be responsibly addressed. But my point is that recent policies have negatively impacted state government across the board. Twelve and sixteen hour shifts for workers in our prisons and state hospitals are not the norm because it is the new way to better serve these agencies’ missions. These institutions simply do not have the budget to adequately undertake their responsibilities and maintain accreditation standards, which can lead to loss of federal funds, further compounding the problem.
Often forgotten is the devastating damage the Brownback administration did to the civil service system. That administration was able, with legislative support, to ignore the long standing system where merit prevailed, which lead to quality folks being attracted to public service. I am sure the Kelly administration will work to get the civil service law changed back. But in this case, the law will allow the administration to switch back to merit now and start the process of recruiting quality public servants we need to successfully carry out state programs and functions. This will all take time and probably much of the four-year term for any significant progress to be made. But steps in the right direction will need to start right away.
For quality government to be restored, it is essential that the public know the long range plan and that the initial steps taken by the Kelly administration are consistent with that plan. From a practical point of view, this will take leadership from both sides of the aisle understanding that it cannot be politics as usual. I know the Governor will be reaching out and doing her part. Key to success is whether the legislative leaders within both parties can set aside 2020 election goals and “gotcha” politics that only lead to stalemate and getting done only what has to be done. We must now put the state and its future first, or that future will not be what we want and need.