Monthly Archives: January 2012

Bill would put check-off box on tax forms to fund arts

A bill co-sponsored by 40 House members would put a check off box on income tax return forms, allowing people to donate $1, $5, $10 or a specified amount to help bolster the Kansas Arts Commission.

The proposal is part of an effort to raise private funds for the Commission, which had its funds eliminated by Gov. Sam Brownback last year. Brownback has since included $200,000 in his recommended budget for a new Creative Industries Commission in the Department of Commerce that includes aspects of the Arts Commission and Kansas Film Commission.

The Arts Commission, which still exists despite no funding, is also planning to sell special license plates for $100, with $50 going to the arts group that procures the sale and $50 for the Commission, which could then spread the money among community art projects across the state.

Currently the Kansas income tax form has four programs you can check to donate: Chickadee Check-off, Senior Citizen Meals on Wheels Contribution Program, Breast Cancer Research Fund and Military Emergency Relief Fund.

New mission statement: Department of Health and Environment seeks to improve health and environment

Following on the heels of the state Democratic Party (“Committed to electing Democrats in Kansas,” see post below), the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has come up with a similarly tautological expression of its raison d’etre.

The new mission statement of KDHE: “To protect and improve the health and environment of all Kansans.”

The new mission statement deletes the phrase that used to follow the word “Kansans” in the old mission statement: “by promoting responsible choices.”

For the record, KDHE still stands foursquare in favor of responsible choices, according to a statement from agency chief Robert Moser.

“Leaving out ‘promoting responsible choices’ in no way means that we’re moving away from promoting healthier, greener living,” Moser said in the statement. “Promoting responsible choices is only one strategy the department uses to improve the state of health and environment in Kansas.”

The new mission statement emerged out of a strategic planning process that ran from July to October of last year and included input from all 1,200 agency employees and 10 outside “stakeholder” groups.

In addition to a new mission statement, the process generated a plan to guide the agency through the next three years.

“The strategic map focuses on six mission-critical priorities with two cross-cutting priorities intended to strengthen key partnerships and assess effectiveness,” KDHE’s announcement said.

To find out what that means, click here.

Democrats seek to boost Kansas school funding

Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis speaks about school finance to students at Lowman Hill Elementary School in Topeka

TOPEKA — With a gym full of elementary schoolchildren looking on, legislative Democrats proposed a plan to add at least $90 million to school funding in the next two years.

The money would come from the current state surplus of $351 million, said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.

And three years hence, half of all state excess revenue would go to schools until per-pupil revenue reaches the court-approved level of $4,492 under the Democrats’ proposal.

The other 50 percent would go to reduce local property taxes. Hensley said that would return about $7.4 million to Sedgwick County property taxpayers.

The Democrats’ plans for education come the day before Gov. Sam Brownback is expected to address the topic in his State of the State address.

Details have not been disclosed, but Brownback is expected to propose using the surplus money to reduce state income taxes.

Brownnack wants to freeze most school spending at the current level, which have been substantially reduced in recent years because of budget problems.

He also wants to rework the school finance formula to allow local voters to raise their property taxes as much as they want for schools, and to give districts more flexibility in how they spend extra money they get for at-risk pupils.

Much of the discussion about issues such as base state aid went well over the heads of the kindergarten-through-fifth grade children of Lowman Hill Elementary School, who were trooped down to their gym for the combination news conference/social studies assignment.

But a lot of them did pick up the general concept that more money for schools would mean more for them.

Tyler Smith, a 9-year-old fourth grader, said he learned “we should do some fundraisers to support the school so we can get more school equipment and supplies so (students) can get a good education.”

“I learned that we should have more field trips,” added his classmate, 9-year-old third grader Logan Godt. Also, “we need like, glue sticks and pencils and stuff like that. And we need more books.”

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, chats with Lowman Hill Elementary School "Mayor" and fifth-grader Jocelyn Mercer.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita was among about a half-dozen Democratic legislators who joined their leaders at the news conference.

He urged against making changes to the current school funding formula, devised in a 2005 special session that followed a lawsuit in which the state Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature was not adequately funding education.

He said the current formula is equitable, bipartisan and court-approved — but needs more money.

“Kansans don’t want another long, drawn out fight over school finance,” Ward said. “They just want the governor and the Legislature to hold up their end of a bargain that was struck 151 years ago by our state’s founders. They want lawmakers to give our kids a chance and fund our schools.”

Hensley’s House counterpart, Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said the issue is about a lot more than numbers.

“Somewhere sitting, perhaps right here in this gymnasium, is the next Dwight Eisenhower or Amelia Earhart,” he said. “They came to school today to learn and be able to succeed. And what they need is a boost from the state of Kansas to make sure they can realize their dreams.”

Lawmaker criticizes House Speaker O’Neal

More dark clouds could be on the horizon for Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal as the legislative session begins, Brad Cooper of the Kansas City Star reports:

Conservative state Rep. Owen Donohoe of Shawnee took aim at O’Neal in a letter he circulated to the House Republican caucus. He ripped into the speaker for nepotism and “abuse of power.” He suggested it might be time for a new leader.

“As we approach the 2012 legislative session, I would like to share my concern about the continuous abuse of power and nepotism by Speaker O’Neal which has compromised the integrity of the Republican caucus,” says the opening paragraph of the letter.

“I feel that the Speaker’s violations will make it extremely difficult to arrive at legislation that is in the best interest of our constituents when it is so compromised from the start,” Donohoe wrote in the letter.

“I believe the Republican caucus should examine its leadership in light of these issues, and determine if this is what we want in our leaders. I would like to know your feelings about these issues.”

The Donohoe letter comes just days after O’Neal gained national notoriety for an email he forwarded to lawmakers that compared First Lady Michelle Obama’s hair to the Grinch and called her “Mrs. YoMama.”

Donohoe criticized the hiring of O’Neal’s wife, Cindy, as secretary of the appropriations committee led by Rep. Marc Rhoades of Newton.

Go to the Midwest Democracy Project to read more.

 

 

State officials: Westar rate increase proposal way too much

State regulatory staff and consumer advocates are recommending deep cuts in a $90.8 million rate increase requested by Westar Energy.

Analysts for the Kansas Corporation Commission staff are recommending that the proposed increase be reduced to $33.6 million.

The Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, the state agency that advocates for residential and small-business ratepayers, is recommending that instead of any increase, Westar’s rates actually be decreased by $11.6 million.

Both agencies filed testimony today in the ongoing rate case.

A large part of the difference in proposed rate changes relates to the company’s “return on equity,” the financial cushion that Westar gets above its projected cost of providing power to its customers to provide a profit for company shareholders.

While Westar has proposed a 10.6 percent rate of return, KCC staff is recommending 9.5 percent and CURB, 8.85 percent.

A Westar official said the company is evaluating the voluminous testimony filed by the state agencies, but believes its original request was reasonable given the complexities the company faces in retrofitting its coal-fired power plants to meet new environmental requirements.

Company officials have said they think the 10.6 percent return is what they’ll need to entice investors to finance the company.

CURB, however, says the proposed rate is far too high in a time of very low interest rates.

The rate increase request was filed in August and is scheduled to be decided by April 23.