Last month, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed a package of stringent abortion restrictions into law, including a “personhood” clause that defines life as beginning at fertilization that puts abortion rights into jeopardy and could also endanger access to in vitro fertilization and some forms of contraception. Given that these new laws may skirt the legal precedent that a woman has a right to access an abortion, the state will have to spend money defending them from lawsuits. That sum could come to well over $1 million, as Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has requested $500,000 more to fund the legal battle on top of the $800,000 it spent last year.
But Kansas has been dealing with budget cuts, particularly in Brownback’s most recent budget that reduced overall state spending by $465 million while also cutting income taxes. Taxpayer money that is being spent on defending these legally questionable laws could be going to many other important programs:
1. Restoring sequestration cuts: Sequestration is going to impact every state with its across-the-board cuts, taking a bite out of programs that have already dealt with decreased funding in recent years. With just over $1 million, Kansas could restore all funding to a variety of vital programs: law enforcement and public safety, job search assistance, vaccines for children, domestic violence services, nutrition assistance for seniors, and upgrades to public health threat response.
2. Tobacco prevention: Kansas ranks 39th in the U.S. for spending on tobacco prevention programs, as it spends under $1 million, just .62 percent of the $161 million it pulls in from tobacco-generated revenue. Yet prevention programs have been found to be highly effective at lowering tobacco use as well as cost effective: One study estimated that returns could be as much as $50 saved for every $1 spent thanks to avoiding tobacco-related health problems. The state could double its already low efforts with the money spent defending its new anti-abortion laws.
3. Arts funding: In 2011, Kansas became the first state without an arts agency when Brownback vetoed funding for the Kansas Arts Commission. The Kansas legislature had recommended appropriating just $689,000 to fund the agency, which would have allowed the state to continue receiving $1.2 million in federal and regional arts funding. The state funding could more than be restored, bringing arts grant dollars back to the state and reinvigorating an arts and nonprofit sector that generates $153.5 million a year in economic activity.
4. Drinking water protection: As part of the spending cuts in Brownback’s most recent budget, he used his line-item veto on some programs, including $800,000 for LEPP, the Local Environmental Protection Program. That program provided grants to local health departments to monitor wastewater and water systems and enforce regulations in order to protect drinking water. State officials have warned that without the program, the state will see increased health problems, lawsuits, and local fees for installing septic tanks and other systems, as well as non-compliance with federal environmental laws.
5. Higher education: College and university budgets have been struggling with decreased state funding, and Kansas is no exception. One community college, Kansas City Kansas Community College, stands to lose about $430,000 from its budget if a 2-4 percent cut to higher education funding goes through. The cut has been proposed as one way to reduce spending in the wake of Brownback’s income tax cuts. If the funding is cut, the college may have to increase tuition on top of the $6 per credit hour increase this past semester. Yet many of the students are young and some are unemployed, making it difficult for them to shoulder more costs, a school official said.
6. Public education: Education spending is predicted to drop $216 per student after the tax cuts Brownback signed into law on top of a $745 decline between 2008 and 2013. Yet a state court ruled that the state is short changing students and must restore $440 million in education spending. While $1 million is just a drop in that bucket, it could go toward ensuring that Kansas’s children get the well-funded education that they deserve.
Kansas is spending a large amount of money defending its anti-abortion laws, but it’s far from the only state doing so. North Dakota has signed the most stringent abortion restrictions in the nation into law, leading the attorney general to request a budget increase of $400,000 to defend them from lawsuits. Arkansas is also gearing up to spend state money defending its new ban on abortions after 12 weeks. At a time when many states have been grappling with tight budgets, the sums of money spent on defending against lawsuits could be used elsewhere.