By Annie Gowen - If you want to know what a Tea Party America might look like, there is no place like Kansas.
In the past year, three state agencies have been abolished and 2,050 jobs have been cut. Funding for schools, social services and the arts have been slashed. The new Republican governor rejected a $31.5 million federal grant for a new health-insurance exchange because he opposes President Obama’s health-care law. And that’s just the small stuff.
...During his tenure as governor, Brownback has pushed for stricter abortion controls, the expansion of faith-based programming and initiatives that promote healthy marriage and fatherhood...
Brownback defied even the GOP-led state legislature in cutting funding for the arts, which left Kansas as the only state without a state-funded arts commission. And his plan to shutter nine social service offices around the state created a firestorm and sent several localities scrambling for their checkbooks to keep the offices open.
...One of Brownback’s top lieutenants was Robert Siedlecki Jr., a former legal adviser on faith-based initiatives in the George W. Bush administration. Brownback hired Siedlecki this year to be Kansas’s secretary of social and rehabilitation services.
Siedlecki cut dozens of jobs, closed offices, doubled the size of the team that investigates welfare cheats and rewrote state contracts to encourage providers of state services to promote pro-fatherhood and pro-family ideals. He also hired a Florida pastor, Rick Marks, to head the state’s new healthy-marriage initiative. Marks has been described by some as the state’s “marriage guru.”
After less than a year on the job, Siedlecki resigned this month. But some of his legacy remains.
To help fund its new fatherhood initiative, Kansas has shifted $600,000 from an Early Head Start program in Riley County, which has double the state’s percentage of residents in poverty. Head Start officials said they already have strong fatherhood programming in place and that they would rather have used those funds to get children off the waiting list for day care.
“Dr. Marks — we have a ‘marriage guru’ now — came out to our program, and he was shocked at all the things we do at Head Start,” said Korey Hensley, the director of Heartland Early Education in Salina. “He said, ‘Oh, you do family preservation!’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ ”
As the opening session of the state legislature approaches in January, officials are preparing for another bruising budget battle. Brownback plans to revamp the state’s tax system with cuts to the income tax rates and plans to change the 20-year-old funding formula for schools, a move that opponents fear could benefit wealthier districts.
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