Greg Doering, Kansas Farm Bureau
Kansas legislators will soon be on spring break, and as they head back to their districts to tout the work they’ve already completed this session. At public forums and town halls across the state, lawmakers are also likely to talk about an unexpected problem: too much money.
Certainly, this is much better than crafting a budget with a shortfall where none of the options are appealing. However, dealing with a surplus is kind of like a child in a candy store. While there’s not enough money to buy everything, there’s still enough to fill up on empty calories.
Right now, legislators are in that candy store with their eyes darting around a menu of paying off debt, cutting taxes, issuing rebates, shoring up rainy day funds or spending the excess on services. Individually, each one of these has merit.
As they return home during the break in the legislative session, it’s a prime opportunity for citizens to speak out about how those budget decisions can make a difference in their communities. Getting it right means not gorging on the excess now, so we don’t have to deal with the stomachache later.
Those of us in rural areas need to make a strong case for using some of this money to make real investments in our communities that will have an impact long after the good times have ended. It’s a chance to advocate at home for the future of our communities. In fact, one of the best uses for a portion of the money is in homes, especially in rural areas across the state.
A lack of quality housing is repeatedly cited by businesses, workers and community leaders as a substantial barrier to rural economic growth. The influx of federal dollars and Kansas’ robust budget present a rare opportunity to make a lasting investment in rural Kansas with a one-time appropriation to the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation (KHRC).
We’re not asking for a handout, rather we want to prime the pump for private investors to build, rehabilitate and finance housing in the 96 Kansas counties with a population of less than 60,000. As a Kansas entity KHRC is not bound by mountains of federal regulatory requirements that rural areas may not meet.
As history has shown, spending on KHRC programs offers up to a six to one return for every dollar invested. This multiplier effect means any investment by the legislature likely results in significant spending on rural housing.
That’s real money to address a lack of homes for people with moderate incomes, like teachers, police officers and young professionals who struggle to find suitable accommodations in rural Kansas.
KHRC has a proven history and ability to be flexible to meet the needs of rural communities. This money would provide real, tangible returns not only by providing homes for current and future residents, but it would also incentivize businesses to expand to meet the needs of growing communities.
There’s a real opportunity to use this funding in the short term to create a cycle of growth in areas of need. Now is the time for some hometown advocacy. All of us have concrete examples of what the housing needs in our communities are. Share them with your legislators when you see them over the next few weeks in church, the grocery store or at a townhall. Let them know how important the issue is to you and ask if you can count on their support to make prudent, long-term investments in rural Kansas.