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Budget cutting is a tradeoff

POSTED: January 13, 2012 7:00 a.m.

Go to almost any meeting these days and at some point someone — usually a state or federal official — will get around to describing a project or policy plan as “a tradeoff.”
It happened again during a recent meeting at Kansas Originals Market and Gallery near Wilson. As part of a project to improve Interstate 70, the Kansas Department of Transportation plans to close the Wilson exit — first the west side and then the east side — through the spring and summer. Two dozen or so residents of nearby communities met with KDOT officials to voice their concerns about economic and safety issues. The Wilson exit deposits traffic on Kansas Highway 232, a scenic byway that runs directly to Wilson Lake and the communities of Wilson and Lucas.
The state could erect crossovers to allow use of the exit during construction, but the cost would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, KDOT engineer Karlton Place told the residents.
“Ten or 15 years ago, we would have had crossovers, but because of the economic times we’re in, that’s probably a thing of the past,” he said.
Temporary economic hardship versus good roads. Rural Kansas, it seems, has become the land of tradeoffs.
That is not all bad, given the high cost of protecting the businesses and communities near the Wilson exit. It does, however, point out once again the consequences of the limited government that seems to be so popular with today’s politicians. Not all tradeoffs are as easy to justify as the Wilson crossovers.
A budget cut doesn’t mean a program — or the problem it addresses — disappears. It simply means the burden is shifted elsewhere. State budget cuts, for instance, usually translate into more responsibility for local counties, cities and school districts. That certainly has been the experience of Ellsworth County over the years.
As part of the I-70 project tradeoff, state officials plan to rely on signs and other forms of communication to alert travelers to the construction at the Wilson exit. We hope they work — and we also hope that the Wilson and Lucas area has as many businesses in the fall as it did in the spring.
Good highways are important. So are vibrant local economies. State lawmakers, who started the 2012 session this week, should keep that in mind as they work to reform state spending habits.

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