Kansas and Missouri face ‘drastic’ COVID budget threats if Washington doesn’t step in

September 26, 2020
In The News

Gov. Laura Kelly of Kansas was blunt: “Drastic” state budget reductions are on the table if Congress and the White House fail to agree on financial help for state and local governments.

“Unless we get some help from the federal government … we will see some pretty serious cuts,” the Democrat told reporters Monday.

Her warning applies to Kansas, but officials in other places will recognize it. The plain truth is Kansas and Missouri will face a bleak fall and winter unless Congress passes a COVID relief bill that addresses state needs.

That’s why it was encouraging Tuesday when a bipartisan group in the House, calling itself the Problem Solvers Caucus, proposed a $1.5 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that could include more than $500 billion for state and local government subsidies.

Without that help, Kansas schools will face increased financial pressure in responding to the coronavirus. Missouri’s public buildings will continue to deteriorate. Kansas City and surrounding communities may have to lay off more workers, leaving trash to pile up or snow to clog the streets.

Naturally, hyperpartisan members of the House rejected the Problem Solvers’ plan. House Democratic leadership said it didn’t do enough to address the nation’s needs. Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, called the proposal “problematic” because it spends too much on state and local budgets.

It’s time for everyone to knock it off. State and local budgets have been ravaged by declining revenues during the six-month COVID-19 shutdown, and they need help. Today.

In June, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson withheld roughly $450 million in spending to keep the budget in line. “We are experiencing an unprecedented economic downturn, which means we are having to make unprecedented adjustments in our budget,” he said in a news release.

Parson withheld spending for scholarships, disability programs, colleges and universities, K-12 education, maintenance and water programs — and the list goes on for another 140 items.

The idea that federal spending for states is a “bailout” of Democratic governors and mismanaged states — a notion pushed by President Donald Trump — is a myth. Parson is a Republican, and the Missouri General Assembly is controlled by Republicans.

Kelly is a Democrat, but Republicans control the Kansas Legislature. Both states are reliably red at the presidential ballot box.

Missouri and Kansas need help because revenue is dropping, while some expenses are climbing. The federal government can run a deficit, while the states can’t. That’s why Washington must step in.

Only one member of Congress from Kansas or Missouri has joined the Problem Solvers Caucus, and that’s Kansas Rep. Steve Watkins, who is leaving office. But Reps. Sharice Davids, Emanuel Cleaver, and Sam Graves can still step up in this moment to help states.

On the Senate side, Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley of Missouri and Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts of Kansas must do more to convince colleagues that a relief bill is necessary, and that help for states is essential.

And now is the time. In a few weeks, everyone will scatter for the November elections. Kansas and Missouri, and the people who live in them, can’t wait much longer.