Gov. Sam Brownback tried to make a grab for the funds of the Kansas Oil and Gas Valuation Depletion Fund, to utilize these funds to balance the state budget shortfall. This shortfall is a byproduct of Gov. Brownback's experiment to eliminate state income taxes.
The Kansas Oil and Gas Valuation Depletion Fund was envisioned and funded though oil and gas revenues that largely originate from southwest Kansas and its declining Hugoton Gas Field. The Valuation Depletion Fund would then be available — in future hard times — to those individual counties, from which the income had originated, to aid their schools and local governments when the gas and oil ran out.
The shameless attempt to "capture and divert" those funds back to Topeka is the issue here. Reportedly, the infamous Koch Brothers and the hometown-sounding Kansas Chamber (which used to be non-political) have assisted Brownback's general objectives. If Gov. Brownback has supporters like these, who needs Karl Rove or Rush?
Royalty owners in this part of the state are proud to have had the foresight to create this fund. It cushions the inevitable regional petroleum decline and its effect on local government. In Kearny County alone the Depletion Fund currently amounts to $1.5 million.
I was surprised to read that the fox attempted to get into the chicken coop. Fortunately, the fox was intercepted in the act, escaping with only a mouthful of feathers and some blood on his jowls. Not the whole catch. According to reliable sources, in a last-minute compromise in the Legislature, the Depletion Fund's money, currently in the possession of the individual counties, will not be robbed — except for the next two years. Why am I happy about this compromise? Because the devastation could have been greater.
Thanks to Dena Sattler, editor of The Garden City Telegram, for alerting the public to the attempted raid, for doing her job and laying out the facts and the players, and for taking a strong position in this matter. Thanks to Representatives John Doll and Russ Jennings for standing up for the people of southwest Kansas in brokering this compromise. Also, thanks to lobbyists John Pinegar and Doug Smith, working in Topeka to keep the fund in local hands.
Missing in this battle is Sen. Larry Powell. Did Mr. Powell aid the raiding party? If true, we are left to ask: does ultra-conservative ideology and allegiance to the Brownback agenda trump the best interests of Sen. Powell's own constituency? Perhaps Mr. Powell can clarify his actions on the Depletion Fund. But then, wasn't it Larry Powell who introduced the bill in the Senate to hijack the Depletion Funds? The Garden City Telegram might be a good forum to present his views to his constituents.
My grandma used to say, "Once the fox has tasted chicken, he will come back for more." We should not rest easy that the Kansas Oil & Gas Depletion Fund will not be fingered again, if the state needs a little extra cash.