Tuesday, September 4, 2012

COMMENTARY: State capitol renovation costs a disgrace

By NICK SLOAN, NJSloan212@gmail.com

For those who have seen The Dark Knight movie, one of the most iconic scenes in the film involves millions of dollars.

The Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger, ends up lighting a massive stack of cash after Gotham City's mafia paid him for his duties. The Joker makes the point that his chaos is not influenced by money. Instead, he argues that his criminal duties are above money, and thus he burns the money.

I was reminded of that scene when I read the stories last week about the price tag of the Kansas capitol renovations.

Over the past 11 years, the Kansas Legislature and State Finance Council have approved and spent $332 million on renovations to the state capitol building.

Even worse, the initial plan approved by the Kansas Legislature called for a price-tag of $90-120 million.

That price should have led to some debate on its own, but the fact the project has went three years over budget and $200 million over budget is insane.

Why was this allowed to happen? How did it get this bad? Why isn't there more outrage on this matter from our elected officials?

While a few renovations may be justified - fixing a leaky roof is one of the few - $332 million is certainly too high of a cost to taxpayers, especially when a good chunk of that came during the worst economic situation since the Great Depression.

Quite frankly, it should embarrass all Kansans and both parties are to blame.

The Republican majority in the Kansas Legislature didn't do its job in being financially responsible to the state. Two Democratic governors and two Republican governors in that stretch could have displayed some leadership on the matter.

This $332-million shiny-object is another example of how tone-deaf government has become with the average American citizen.

On average, about $30.2 million in taxpayer dollars have been spent annually on renovation costs in the last 11 years.

The $30.2 million could be spent on education. This money could have funded $5,000 school vouchers to over 6,000 students in Kansas.

It could be used to help build a budget surplus for the state, a novel concept if you ask me. You could have funded tax cuts with it. Or maybe you could have provided emergency drought relief for farmers in Kansas?

There are numerous alternatives out there that span political ideologies.

Instead, the money was spent on this.

While the Joker never apologized to Gotham City, it's time for this state's leaders to apologize for this.