At town hall, elderly, disabled and poor vow to fight Brownback on taxes and privatization of social services

A coalition representing the elderly, schoolchildren, public employees, the disabled and the poor vowed today to campaign against Gov. Sam Brownback’s expected efforts to cut state income tax, saying that it would gut services for those in need and line the pockets of the richest Kansans.

They also planned ways to rally opposition to Brownback’s plans to reform Medicaid by shifting thousands of disabled, elderly and low-income residents into a managed care system operated by for-profit companies.

About 80 people gathered at the Aley Park recreation center in south Wichita for a town hall meeting to listen to stories of people in need and organize to fight changes that they say will make an already bad situation worse.

“What’s happened in Topeka over the last few years has not been good for Kansas,” said the event’s moderator, Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association. “Too many people are suffering … in the current climate of ‘no government is good government.’”

Desetti said that 65 disabled or elderly Kansas died in the past year while on waiting lists for government services for which they were eligible.

He said that is unacceptable given that the state has granted $10 billion in tax cuts over the past decade.

“I good times we have tax cuts because we have extra money,” he said. “In bad times, we cut taxes to bring jobs.

“You know, all we do is give tax breaks,” he added. “There isn’t a tax cut that ever filled a pothole or educated a child.”

The Brownback administration is working on tax reform with a committee whose membership is largely undisclosed, although the governor has confirmed that among those consulting on taxes is Arthur Laffer, architect of President Reagan’s supply-side economics.

The governor has signaled that his plan is to dramatically reduce or eliminate the state income tax, which he thinks will make Kansas more economically competitive with states that don’t have one.

But speakers at the town hall said they think that will only shift the burden of funding government onto sales and property taxes.

That, they said would favor the rich and fall disproportionally on middle-class homeowners and poor people, who spend a larger share of their income on housing and necessities.

Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, accused Brownback of governing through “little secret groups,” mostly from out of state, to develop the tax and social service policies he’s expected to push when the Legislature convenes in January.

“That’s the people that Brownback and his administration are listening to,” Dillmore said. “They’re not listening to me and they’re not listening to you.” Dillmore said he doesn’t think the governor’s priorities represent Kansas values.

“I’ve lived in this state all my life and I know these people and I know that they don’t look around and say, ‘You know, I’m really worried mostly about my pocketbook’ when people are dying,’” Dillmore said. “They look around and they try to find ways to help.”

Members of the panel told their personal stories of how government social services have affected them and others they know.

Aldona Carney told about what it’s like to parent a mentally disabled son who is prone to violent and self-destructive behavior like trying to eat light bulbs and other nonfood items.

“He’s even pulled out his own adult tooth while biting carpet in a rage,” she said.

Like several other panelists, she said afraid managed care will lack the individualized treatment her son needs.

“We fear funding cuts that will lead to a loss of services we depend on,” she said. “If we can’t find help, I fear that we will be prisoners in our own home.”

The town hall was organized by Kansans for Quality Communities and the Big Tent Coalition.

While they are not affiliated with the “Occupy” movements around the country, they did praise Wichita’s occupy group and allowed a representative to read a statement from the audience.

Event organizers passed out lists with the names and home phone numbers of Wichita area legislators, urging participants to call them and tell their own stories of how government has helped them.

“We (lobbyists) try our best to tell your stories in the Legislature,” Desetti said. “Fewer and fewer Kansas legislators want to listen.”