Author Archives: Brent Wistrom

Brent Wistrom has spent more than four years covering Wichita City Hall and Kansas politics for The Eagle.

Brownback to national viewers: ‘We’re seeking tax refugees’

Gov. Brownback talks Kansas tax policy on Bloomberg Thursday.

TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback is on a two-day national media blitz in New York promoting the state’s new lower income tax rates.

“We’re seeking tax refugees,” Brownback told Bloomberg TV in an interview Thursday morning. “So anybody watching this show, whether you’re in New York or anywhere, come to Kansas.”

Brownback’s staff said he is also making appearances on Varney & Co. on the Fox Business channel this morning, Your World with Neil Cavuto on Fox News at 3 p.m. Central, Lou Dobbs Tonight on the Fox Business channel at 6 p.m. and America’s Newsroom on Fox at 8:10 a.m. Friday.

“I want to attract people and human capital into the state,” Brownback said in the Bloomberg interview.

The governor, whose trip is paid for by taxpayers, is also taping an interview expected to air later on Yahoo! News, and he is conducting interviews with the Wall Street Journal, Brownback spokeswoman Sara Arif said Thursday.

“He’s really promoting our tax policy,” she said.

Brownback’s plug for Kansas’ new tax environment follows the income tax rate reductions he signed into law last year that eliminated income taxes for most small businesses and farms and lowered rates for individual income taxpayers. It also comes as lawmakers grapple this year with how to adjust state spending and increase other revenue streams to prevent big budget deficits projected as the result of the tax cuts.

Brownback’s follow-up tax cut plan would extend a temporary six-tenths of a cent sales tax due to expire in July and eliminate the popular mortgage interest deduction, a move he admits is a tough sell. After an additional individual income tax rate reduction, the plan would channel any state revenue growth beyond 4 percent to drive down rates even more.

Eventually, Brownback wants to eliminate state income taxes.

A Senate committee jettisoned Brownback’s proposal to also eliminate the real estate property tax deduction. The altered plan is awaiting debate in the Senate, where conservative Republicans have a majority.

Meanwhile, House leaders say they don’t think there’s support to extend the elevated sales tax rate, and they are discussing alternative proposals that will likely include major spending cuts.

Democrats call the plan a tax hike because it extends the elevated sales tax, and it takes the valuable mortgage interest deduction away from Kansans.

Wichita Democratic Rep. Jim Ward said Kansas tax policy may not be as rosy as Brownback suggests.

“Governor, phone home,” Ward said. “There’s a $4 billion hole in your tax plan, schools are struggling and you’re trying to shift the burden onto working taxpayers. Get back home and get to work.”

The media tour Thursday and Friday comes after Brownback’s planned interviews with national media at the National Governor’s Association in Washington in late February were postponed as he  returned to Kansas to oversee response to two major snowstorms that blanketed the state. Brownback took a commercial flight to New York with his spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag and special assistant Matt Goddard, his staff said.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has recently been discussed as a potential 2016 presidential candidate after injecting himself into the national immigration reform debate, and Brownback’s response to questions about national politics suggest he is also watching the national scene.

“You don’t change America by changing Washington,” Brownback said. “You change America by changing states.”

Brownback, who ran for President briefly in 2008, has downplayed any suggestion that he is trying to set the stage for another White House bid.

When Varney & Co. host Stuart Varney suggested Brownback has “national office in view along in the distant horizon,” Brownback again shrugged it off.

“I’ve got state office in view in Kansas,” he said. “I have five children, my wife and I do.”



Brownback warns that Washington budget cuts could shutter meat plants

Gov. Sam Brownback

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback warned that Kansas meat processing plants may shut down if automatic federal budget cuts lead the Obama Administration to temporarily layoff meat inspectors.

In a letter sent Thursday to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Brownback and Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman said that Vilsack’s recent comments about sequestration cuts leading to furloughs for meat inspectors is a major concern for Kansas because lack of inspections would cause an excess of market-ready animals that can’t be shipped out of state or sold.

“In addition, consumers will face limited meat supplies and potentially higher prices,” Brownback and Rodman warned in the letter.

That’s because meat that is not inspected can’t be sold.

At least one federal official has said the potential furloughs could be staggered to avoid such meat production shutdowns, according to CNBC.

Vilsack said it could take months before the furloughs would happen.

Kansas is home to several major meat packing plants, and Brownback said lagging inspections could cost the state industry hundreds of millions.

To learn more about the beef industry in Kansas and elsewhere, see a recent project by the Kansas City Star.


U.S. Rep. Jenkins trying to get a Kansan back on House Ag Committee

U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins talks with reporters in Topeka on Friday.

TOPEKA – U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins said Friday that she’s looking for ways to get a Kansan back on the House Agricultural Committee now that U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp has been removed from it.

But she said it may be difficult because Kansas’ other three congressional members are already on top shelf committees and would need a waiver to serve on a second one.

“It’s a heavy lift to ask our colleagues to give one of us a waiver to go do that,” she said.

House Speaker John Boehner removed Huelskamp, R-Fowler, and other conservative Republicans from their committee posts earlier this week. Huelskamp was also ousted from the House Budget Committee.

The move leaves western Kansas’ 1st Congressional District without a representative on the agricultural committee for the first time in decades.

U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, is on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Republican from Overland Park, is on the House Appropriations Committee, and Jenkins, who grew up on a dairy farm, is on the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Democrats call for county commissioners to appoint election commissioners

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (right) and House Minority Leader Paul Davis talk to reporters Tuesday.

TOPEKA – County commissioners, not the secretary of state, would appoint election commissioners in the state’s four largest counties under a bill Democratic leaders plan to file before the start of the 2013 legislative session.

The idea has failed to gain traction in the past, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said. But he said Sedgwick County’s failure to promptly produce election results in the August primary and November general elections highlight the need for local control.

“The problems in Sedgwick County are readily apparent,” Hensley told reporters Tuesday.

Previously, the Governor appointed the election commissioners in Sedgwick, Shawnee, Wyandotte and Johnson counties, Hensley said. But lawmakers shifted that control to the secretary of state years ago.

Smaller counties elect a county clerk who handles elections.

Hensley said his bill would give elected county commissioners the power to appoint election commissioners, but he said he wouldn’t oppose having voters elect a commissioner instead.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, of Lawrence, said that Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman’s performance in elections this year raised concerns, and he suggested Kobach’s office may not have provided her enough assistance to fix problems before election day.

But Davis said he doesn’t think partisan politics played any role.

“It’s a competence and execution issue,” he said. “We just may not have a team there that is capable of running an election the way it should be done.”

Lehman’s office has said software programming issues led to results not being posted until about 11 p.m. election night, hours after the presidential race had been called. Full results weren’t available until about 2 a.m. the next day, and many candidates complained that they had to send supporters home from election night parties without knowing who won because of the delays.

Democrats have sharply criticized Secretary of State Kris Kobach for getting involved in partisan politics during election season. Kobach created a political action committee, called Prairie Fire, that paid for ads aimed at defeating democrats, and he served as an honorary chair on Mark Gilstrap’s senate campaign against Democratic Sen. Kelly Kultala.

“You can either administer elections or influence them,” Davis said. “But you can’t do both and claim to be unbiased. We need a full-time secretary of state.”

Kobach could not be immediately reached Tuesday morning.

Wichita Sen. Wagle selected as new Senate President

Sen. Wagle announces her bid for Senate president at a fundraiser in October.

TOPEKA – Incoming senate Republicans elected Wichita Sen. Susan Wagle as their chamber’s new president with 23 of 32 votes Monday.

Wagle became the chamber’s first woman president, and her election signals the senate has shifted farther to the political right after being led by moderate Republicans for several years.

Wagle, who represents a wide swath of east Wichita, was elected to the House in 1990, and she won a seat in the Senate in 2000.

Senate Republicans also unanimously selected Sen. Terry Bruce, R-Reno, as their majority leader and Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, as their vice president.

Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, was elected as assistant majority leader in senate with 22 votes. Sen. Garrett Love, R-Montezuma, was elected as Senate Assistant Majority Leader Whip with 21 votes.

Wagle’s primary competition came from Arkansas City Republican Sen. Steve Abrams, who received nine votes.

Gov. Sam Brownback and his conservative allies helped conservative Republicans oust eight moderate senate Republicans in the August primary. Brownback and other conservatives viewed moderate Republicans as a roadblock to their efforts to eliminate income taxes and change how appellate court judges are appointed.

Brownback now appears to have all the support he needs to push through his agenda, with a 32-8 Republican advantage in the Senate and a 92-33 majority in the House. That’s the same party make up as the 2012 session, however the new batch of senate Republicans are markedly more conservative.

It was the first time senate Republicans conducted their leadership elections in the senate chambers. Typically, it’s done in a smaller conference room. Prospective senate leaders barred media from being on the senate floor during the secret ballot used to select leaders.

Wagle announced her bid for senate president in October during a fundraiser with Gov. Sam Brownback. That came after she underwent chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma over the summer. She said she is now Cancer-free.

Wagle acknowledged she is the first woman to be elected senate president, but she focused more on being the first senator from Wichita to become senate president. And she said her election may provide hope for other Cancer patients.

“This is a wonderful moment for me,” she said.


Health insurance exchange deadline extended; Brownback not reconsidering

Gov. Sam Brownback talks with reporters. (August 2012)

TOPEKA — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, led by former Kansas Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, extended the deadline for states to submit plans for state-federal partnerships to run health insurance exchanges by a month.

But Gov. Sam Brownback’s spokeswoman said the Governor is not reconsidering his decision last week to forego a partnership.

That sets the stage for Kansans to use a federally-created exchange, which is a one-stop shop for people to compare and purchase health insurance packages as part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare.

Many have questioned whether the federal government will be up to the task, especially with several states declining to set up customized exchanges for their residents.

Valley Center student presents possible fix for long waits at DMV offices

Kayla Keith

TOPEKA – A smart phone and internet program could save Kansans a lot of time waiting in line at local DMV offices, a Valley Center High School student told state lawmakers Thursday.

Kayla Keith, a 17-year-old senior, said the state could make use of applications used by businesses such as Great Clips that allow customers to see estimated wait times and check in remotely.

“I think this is a very user-friendly solution,” she said.

Keith said she’s been talking to representatives at Innovative Computer Software, which produced the Great Clips application, and that county offices could set up services through the company.

She said a company representative said it would cost $95 a month for each location, 50 cents for each check in by users and a hardware fee of $399.

The state has already started pilot projects, including one at the state’s drivers license office in Wichita, with a similar system called QLess that allows people to get in line remotely, according to Donna Shelite, director of vehicles for the Department of Revenue.

That program allows people to call or text a number for a particular location. It then sends them a text message back that estimates their wait time.

“It’s really a slick process,” Shelite said. “I see this increasing.”

So far, the state has spent $42,000 on the system for five locations. The state also pays a monthly fee for text message services.

But the system is not available at county offices where people get titles and registrations.

Shelite said Sedgwick County officials initially felt they could create such a program on their own. But she said they haven’t yet and that she plans to meet with Sedgwick County Treasurer Linda Kizzire next week to discuss mobile systems to make things more convenient for taxpayers.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick and chair of the interim budget committee that heard Keith’s presentation, said that no one looks forward to getting tags or a new title because of wait times.

She commended Keith for taking the initiative to present solutions to county and state officials.

Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, said the state may have to find a way to deal with providing accurate wait times because the time to process titles and registrations can widely vary. But she applauded Keith.

“This is really inspiring,” she said.


Key part of recently axed Main Street program created 168 jobs since 2008

TOPEKA — A primary part of the Kansas Main Street program that Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration eliminated this fall created 168 jobs since 2008, according to the Department of Commerce.

But Commerce Sec. Pat George felt the state’s other economic development programs create more jobs, said Dan Lara, spokesman for the commerce department.

The department will allow communities to use existing money through the Incentive Without Walls program that created jobs.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, who is retiring from the Senate, said that eliminating the program seems inconsistent with Brownback’s effort to revitalize rural communities through incentives offered to people in the state’s Rural Opportunity Zones program.

The state has provided $3.7 million to 35 communities through the Main Street incentives program. The $982,000 spent since 2008 created 168 jobs, Lara said. It’s strongest years were 2011 and 2012, when it created 48 jobs in each year. Among those jobs were 29 in Leavenworth, 15 in Parsons, 13 in McPherson, 13 in Hutchinson and 11 in El Dorado.


Kansas Lottery Director to resign in December

TOPEKA – Kansas Lottery Director Dennis Wilson plans to resign in December in order to recover from a serious knee injury, Gov. Sam Brownback announced Wednesday.

Brownback applauded Wilson’s work, noting that the state had a 5 percent increase in ticket sales under Wilson’s leadership.

Brownback will name an acting director in coming weeks.

In a news release, Wilson thanked his staff for making sure the agency and its games are “upheld to the highest industry standards.”

“I am disappointed that my service must come to an end,” he said in a prepared statement. “But I need to direct my attention to my full recovery from a serious knee injury and ensure that it does not further deteriorate.”

Wilson, who is from Overland Park, previously served as a  representative in the House from 1995 to 1999 and in the Senate from 2005 top 2009.

Gov. Brownback announces new task force to reduce childhood poverty

Gov. Sam Brownback

TOPEKA – Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday announced the formation of a task force to reduce childhood poverty.

The 12-member task force will start meeting next week, and it aims to find cost-effective ways to make sure children understand as soon as possible that their decisions can have a lasting impact on their future.

“All too often in our state, children who are living in poverty today become tomorrow’s poor parents. Intergenerational poverty such as this affects our state’s long-term productivity and wellbeing,” Brownback said in a prepared statement.

The task force members include:

  • Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families
  • Sherdeill Breathett, former president of the South Central Economic Development district and an executive board member of Real Men, Real Heroes.
  • Shawn Sullivan, secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services
  • Robert Moser, secretary of the Kansas Department for Health and the Environment
  • Monsignor Vincent Krische,  a senior associate at Corpus Christi Church in Lawrence
  • Dan Lord, professor of marriage and family therapy at Friends University
  • Carolyn Szafran, a social work instructor and field coordinator at Washburn University
  • Barry Feaker, executive director of the Topeka Rescue Mission
  • Mary Wilkinson, a member of the Kansas Family Policy Council Board of Directors
  • Joan Schultz, executive director of The Willow Domestic Violence Center (The Willow) in Lawrence
  • Joyce Crumpton, who has retired after working as a nurse in the Kansas City area for 30 years and has previously served on the REACH Healthcare Foundation.
  • Robert DeLeon, community center director and youth program director for the Salvation Army in Garden City.