The Kansas City Star published an expose on the shrinking size of state government without providing accurate context.
“A review of workforce reports reveals that the number of non-university state employees shrunk about 25 percent between 2002 and 2016,” the story reads. Virtually every bit of context related to the story was left on the cutting room floor, beginning with the dates used in the story.
Shawn Sullivan, the Kansas Budget director, offered information specifically detailing staffing numbers between 2011 to the end of 2016, but the Star reporter opted to use numbers going further back than the Brownback administration. The omission leads the reader to believe staffing at Kansas Department of Corrections, for example, has shrunk up to 25 percent since Brownback took office.
“Fewer guards to secure prisons,” the story reads. That isn’t the truth. Staffing at Kansas corrections facilities has flatlined since 2011. When Brownback took office, there were 3,033 corrections employees. Today, there are only two fewer. The reporter had access to that information, but chose to omit it.
“The quotes where (the story) is blaming prison unrest on huge cutbacks on corrections staff? The staffing is actually flat,” Sullivan says.
The story does admit that cuts began before Brownback took office, but the reporter hangs the sharpest deductions on Brownback’s administration. The reporter specifically blames the tax cuts for staffing cuts.
Some of the state staffing cuts were intentional, but Sullivan said the Brownback administration has made a concentrated effort to maintain front-facing employees and direct-care services like corrections. In some cases, for example, the Kansas Department of Children and Families, some services have been outsourced, which obviously lowers the number of state employees, but doesn’t eliminate services.
“Of course, DCF is going to show a decrease in staff, because they have outsourced some of those jobs to a private company that can provide services better than the state ever did,” Sullivan says.
The story also contains references to staffing cuts at state hospitals like Larned and Osawatomie and the Kansas Neurological Institute in Topeka. Sullivan says KNI and parons have been downsizing staff, but that’s because their populations have decreased significantly.
Meanwhile, the reporter ignores actual government spending, which has increased every year but one during Brownback’s term in office.The paper even went so far as to quote former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ “horror” at staffing cuts despite the fact that they started long before Brownback took office. It appears the Star went looking for a story to fit a particular narrative and eliminated any facts that suggested otherwise.