A new Kansas bill that places a moratorium on refugee resettlements puts on full display the stunning cynicism and cognitive dissonance of many legislators claiming to be for “small government.”
On March 3, a Kansas House Committee voted 12-10 to approve a bill that allows a one-year moratorium on refugee resettlements, creates a new state office for refugees and authorizes Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to appoint a refugee coordinator for the state, The Kansas City Star reports.
The move clearly comes amid worries about the fallout from the war in Syria and the deepening refugee crisis in Europe, and follows two previous executive orders from Brownback that banned the state of Kansas from assisting in refugee resettlement.
Mother Jones reports that four refugees from Syria have been resettled in Kansas during 2016.
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Opponents have assailed the bill for being both un-Christian and unrealistically expensive, given Kansas’ current budget woes. And they are completely correct; the legislation expands the power and scope of the state government on the backs of Kansas’ taxpayers.
Republican State Rep. Don Hineman voiced his opposition to the bill, saying it concerned him that communities could potentially use the moratorium for keeping out certain refugees.
“It opens the door for mischief that is quite concerning to me,” he said.
Some of the legislation’s supporters have tried to cleverly sell the bill -- especially the creation of a new state refugee office -- as a way of "protecting" the new refugees from problems within their communities, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal.
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According to Republican State Rep. Peggy Mast: “We need more eyes on the refugee community and more oversight to protect the inhabitants, both from cases of prejudice, as well as abuse of women within the communities.”
As The Topeka Capital-Journal notes, the legislation permits Kansas to deny public services to individuals living in Kansas on the basis of their national origin. This means the legislature is willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep constant surveillance on refugees, but is much more blase about whether or not refugees have access to the resources by which they can better assimilate into the community. This does not appear to be the goal, at all.
And finally, there’s the cost of the whole thing, which provides the most likely reason why it will be defeated before Brownback can sign anything. In better economic times it might be a foregone conclusion, but Kansas’ finances are in truly dire straits.
The state’s tax receipts were said to be $53 million short of estimated revenues in February, to which Brownback responded by cutting $17 million out of the state’s higher education budget, according to The Kansas City Star.
The move is out of Brownback’s playbook, which he has been using since the Kansas legislature drastically cut income taxes in 2012 and 2013: cut taxes, starve the government of money, then use that as an excuse to cut services used by working people in Kansas, rinse and repeat. It’s a similar strategy to that used by former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, which eventually led to his political downfall in 2015 and which has left the new governor, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, with an enormous mess to clean up.
Members of both parties have commented on the cost of the measure -- the bill’s fiscal note pegs the cost at more than $700,000 and the current budget has only $6 million in reserve.
As Republican State Rep. Stephanie Clayton noted, “We flat-out cannot afford to do this.”
Never say never, though. The advocacy of actually practicing “small government” is likely to take a backseat to fear, propaganda and financial irresponsibility.