The Kansas legislative buffet

When Sen. Phil Journey, a legislator who is known as a conservative, uses the term “legislative buffet,” it reveals the wisdom and foresight of Bastiat, who long ago described the legislative process as this: “A share of the plunder for me, for me!”

The Wichita Eagle article “Water, med school join priority list” (November 30, 2007) describes the battle Wichita-area legislators face: “work together to compete for state resources or lose out to other areas, primarily Johnson County.” As Kansas will spend some $12 billion this year — and probably much more the next — there’s a lot at stake. Whether Wichita gets its fair share of spending on local needs depends on how agile our local senators and representatives are at the buffet.

What’s not often discussed is the absurdity of sending billions of local dollars to Topeka each year, hoping we are judged worthy enough to get some of it back. Or, perhaps we’re hoping to hit the jackpot: if we have very good legislators who can really “belly up” to the buffet, they might manage to get back more from Topeka than we sent. This pattern is not unique to Wichita; each city or region has its own needs and priorities. Why not just leave the money at home, letting each city or county decide how much and on what to spend?

Even better: many, if not all, of the things we want the legislature to do could be done privately, without any government intervention. Then we could accomplish things through voluntary cooperation, instead of the coerced march of our dollars to Topeka, where we have to then fight to get them back. Conservative legislators like Sen. Journey should seek to end the “legislative buffet” instead of restocking it year after year.

Your principle has placed these words above the entrance of the legislative chamber: “Whosoever acquires any influence here can obtain his share of legal plunder.” And what has been the result? All classes have flung themselves upon the doors of the chamber, crying: “A share of the plunder for me, for me!”

— Frederic Bastiat, “Selected Essays on Political Economy” (1848)

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