Budget Cut Impacts
The following paragraphs summarize a portion of the impact that the
Gov. Brownback tax cuts have had on the health and safety of Kansas
(click the highlighted text to link to the corresponding article)
Mental Hospital Workers
Kansas has two state hospitals for the mentally ill – one is Osawatomie and the other in Larned. The budget cuts imposed by Kansas Republicans have devastated both facilities, endangering staff, patients, and the public.
Osawatomie has faced problems with understaffing for years, leading to patient deaths, early release of an unstable patient who murdered someone three days later, and a sexual assault on a staff member who was so isolated she had to be rescued by other patients. The situation is so bad that the hospital lost Medicare certification in 2015, costing the state millions in federal funds.
Larned, which houses sex offenders deemed too dangerous to release, is also hobbled by staff shortages that have put it at risk for being decertified by Medicare. Management has tried to paper over the problem by grinding down workers with forced overtime, but even this practice has not prevented the hospital from falling below federally-mandated minimum staffing levels
Budget cuts by the Republican legislature left the Kansas Bureau of Investigation short 22 investigators at one point. The staff shortage was so severe, that the agency was forced to turn down over 20% of the requests for help it received. Those same cuts also depleted the ranks of the Kansas Highway Patrol, leaving 35 counties without any troopers at all and another 30 counties getting only part-time coverage from a single trooper. Having so few troopers reduced response times and forced officers to work in dangerous situations without proper backup in rural areas and even cities as large as Manhattan and Salina.
Budget cuts by the Republican legislature have prevented the Kansas Department of Corrections from paying fair wages, creating system-wide shortage of more than 300 guards as of August, 2017. To cover the gap, the state forced staff to work extra hours, leaving exhausted guards in charge of dangerously overcrowded prisoners including mentally ill inmates transferred in from state hospitals which are also failing because of Republican policies. The predictable outcome of this volatile mix is a series of violent disturbances by prisoners, including incidents in May, 2 separate uprisings in June, July, and September of 2017, incidents which the Republican state leadership initially tried to cover up by failing to report them.
For fiscal year 2017, the Republican legislature funded less than 12% of the needed road repairs across the state, leaving about 1,000 miles without required maintenance or improvement, including a stretch of I-70 so dangerous that it’s nicknamed “Suicide Curve”. Cuts like these have cost the state thousands of jobs in road construction, including about 3,600 in 2016. Instead of dealing with the problem responsibly, Kansas Republicans have responded by firing KDOT employees who publicly-acknowledge the dangers posed by insufficiently funding road repairs.
In March, 2017, fires scorched 700,000 acres in Kansas and Oklahoma and revealed the underfunded state of the Kansas Forest Service, which has less than $1 million budgeted to fight fires — eight times less than Oklahoma. Despite this low funding, the Kansas Forest Service actually had to send money back to Topeka in the middle of the wildfire crisis because of the budget disaster created by the Republican legislature.