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.


Pompeo, White House trade words over impending budget cuts

U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo and White House Press secretary Jay Carney swapped words Tuesday over the impending sequestration cuts.

Carney, speaking during a press briefing, mentioned Pompeo when talking about whether the cuts could still be prevented:

“Well, we’ll have to see what the Republican leadership does.  Unfortunately, on the other side of the ledger, we’ve seen comments, as we did from Congressman Pompeo, a Republican Congressman, that suggests a different course of action.  He said it would be a home run politically for Republicans to see sequester implemented.  I wonder if he would say that to the 90,000 Defense Department workers in Virginia who would see their pay cut because of furloughs, or the thousands of Virginians who would lose their jobs because of sequester if it were allowed to be implemented.  We certainly don’t think that’s a home run for ordinary Americans, even if that Congressman thinks it would be for him politically.”
Pompeo fired back with a news release cast as a response to “today’s misguided White House attacks”:
“Mr. Carney doesn’t understand that not every public official is willing to play games with lives of hard-working Americans for political gain like his boss, President Obama.  I said that the sequester is a home run not because it is good politics, but because it begins to put America back on the right fiscal track.

“I would welcome the opportunity to tell the 90,000 furloughed workers, the ones President Obama is choosing to let go of, that they need to know several things:

“First, the sequester does not have to mean furloughs.  The President is choosing to make this minor reduction in spending painful — by furloughing people — in order to pursue his twin goals of raising taxes and increasing the size of the federal government.  The President wasted $1 trillion dollars of stimulus money that did nothing to grow our economy and create jobs.  Now, he is needlessly using a decrease in federal spending amounting to less than a few percent to harm even more American workers and their families.

“Second, there are fewer Americans working in America today than when the President took office.  I find it bizarre that Mr. Carney would ask me about talking to furloughed workers.  I’ve been talking to and representing thousands of furloughed and laid-off workers in Kansas who have lost their livelihood because of this President’s failed economic policies and his consistent attacks on the general aviation industry.  Before President Obama’s wreckless deficits, general aviation was a robust manufacturing jewel providing high-paying jobs in the Air Capital of the World.  Today, he continues to cause it pain.

“Third, Mr. Carney says that this isn’t a home-run for average Americans.  He is wrong.  While there will surely be dislocations, the President’s $6 trillion in new federal debt have been a strikeout for our country.  Most Americans understand the need to stop year-on-year trillion dollar deficits.  For them, we should have done even more to reduce the size of our federal government.  The sequester is a solid first step.  Growing American prosperity will require us to hit a grand slam on reducing spending, taxation, and regulation.  I look forward to being part of making that happen.

“Finally, the President proposed, signed, and threatened to veto changes to, the sequester.  It was his plan.  Not once, but twice, Congressional Republicans have provided alternatives.  We have seen nothing from Carney’s boss.  If it is really that bad, why has he not sent a different set of cuts?  The President’s actions — claiming to be upset about the sequester and traveling to Virginia to confuse workers there — are at best disingenuous and at worst just plain mean.”


White House: Military, school and health cuts will hurt Kansas if sequester not averted

Kansas will lose at least $79 million in funding for the state’s military bases and face about $10.8 million in cuts to education if Congress and the president can’t reach agreement to head off automatic budget cuts scheduled to begin Friday, according to a new White House report.

Those and other Kansas-specific cuts –- part of the national “sequestration” debate –- are detailed in a state-by-state report released by the White House Sunday evening.

Staffs for Kansas’ two senators and Wichita’s House representative were reviewing the numbers Monday and said they think there may be less painful ways to implement cuts than what the White House has described.

“Washington should be more than capable of cutting less than three percent of its nearly four trillion dollar budget,” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Dodge City said in an e-mail. “In fact, considering our staggering national debt and the dramatic increase in federal spending under President Obama, we should be able to cut more. However, these savings won’t be achieved through bully pulpit scare tactics and localized threats via White House press release.”

Rep Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, who also responded to Eagle questions via e-mail, had a similar reaction to the White House report.

“This small dose of fiscal discipline will need not result in the calamities President Obama is suggesting,” Pompeo said. “It simply requires leadership. Every day, Kansas’ small businesses have to figure out how to survive with lower revenues and drops in sales and, goodness knows, higher costs because of this president’s regulations.”

The Kansas-specific cuts detailed in the White House report include:

· Military spending – A $78 million reduction in operating funds for the state’s Army bases plus $1 million for Air Force operations. The report said 8,000 civilian employees would be given unpaid furloughs, reducing gross pay by $36.7 million. The report was not clear on whether the furloughs would be included in the base operations cuts or in addition to them and the White House press office was not immediately able to clarify that. If the furloughs are in addition to the base operations reduction, the military spending cut in the state would total $115.7 million.

· Schools – Kansas would lose $5.5 million in funding for elementary and secondary schools, which the White House said would put about 80 teacher and aide jobs at risk. The state would also lose about $5.3 million in funding for an additional 60 teachers, aides and staff who provide services to children with disabilities.

· Head Start and child care – Cuts would eliminate funding for approximately 500 children who attend early education programs and another 400 children of low-income working parents who receive assistance in paying for child care.

· Higher education – About 310 fewer Kansas students would receive financial aid for college and 140 fewer students would be offered work-study jobs to help pay for their education.

· Senior nutrition – The state would lose $209,000 that helps provide meals for elderly residents.

· Environment – Kansas would lose about $1.8 million in funding for programs to ensure clean air and water and to prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. In addition, the state would lose $772,000 in grants for fish and wildlife protection.

· Job search and training – Kansas would lose about $322,000 for job assistance, meaning about 11,130 fewer people would receive training and assistance in finding work.

· Public health – Kansas would not receive more than $1 million in grants, including $610,000 for substance abuse prevention and treatment, $273,000 to prepare for responses to threats such as infectious disease outbreaks, bioterrorism, nuclear or chemical accidents; $85,000 for childhood vaccinations and $65,000 for HIV testing.

· Law enforcement – The state would lose $149,000 in justice administration grants supporting various programs for police, courts, corrections, drug treatment and victim and witness assistance.

· Domestic violence – Kansas would lose about $61,000 in funds, resulting in as many as 200 domestic-violence victims not receiving services.

Kansas would also be affected by nationwide cuts in federal services such as aviation safety and security, emergency response, immigration enforcement, food safety, small-business loans and mental-health treatment, the White House said. Kansas-specific amounts were not detailed in the report.

The automatic budget cuts, called the “sequester,” total about $85 billion nationwide for the rest of 2013.

The sequester was part of a deal struck in August between the president and Congress that averted going over the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

The compromise plan raised the national debt ceiling so the country didn’t have to default on its debts. At the same time it dictated massive spending cuts to reduce the federal debt. The cuts are about evenly split between the defense and domestic budgets.

At the time, the cuts contained in the sequester were designed to be politically painful, to put pressure on Congress and the president to compromise on a deficit-reduction plan.

That hasn’t happened and it appears unlikely a deal will be struck before the cuts begin to take effect Friday.

Republicans have accused President Obama of attempting to inflate the level of crisis the sequester would cause to rally the public to his side. They say the cuts would amount to less than percent of federal spending and could be accomplished without major disruption.

Pompeo said he doesn’t think the sequester cuts enough.

“This bill isn’t perfect,” Pompeo said. “For instance, it only cuts $85 billion and doesn’t begin to address our long-term fiscal problems. It also impacts national security in ways that simply do not make sense by tying the hands of our military leaders needlessly. The House has twice passed legislation to address this concern.”

Added Roberts: “The President should be working with Congress to find more responsible alternatives to the sequester like eliminating waste, fraud and abuse and making sensible cuts to auto-pilot spending, rather than scaring the American people while demanding higher taxes.”

Obama and his Democratic supporters accuse the Republicans of obstructing progress to protect their wealthy supporters.

The president has advocated for solving the sequester through what he calls a “balanced” package of some spending cuts and closure of tax loopholes that primarily benefit the richest Americans.

Former Bear Stearns executive to advise Brownback economic advisors

The former chief economist and senior managing director of the now-defunct Bear Stearns investment banking firm will give the opening presentation when Gov. Sam Brownback’s Council of Economic Advisors meets on Wednesday in Topeka, according to the Department of Commerce.

Wayne Angell worked for Bear Stearns from 1994 until 2002, six years before the company’s spectacular collapse in the subprime mortgage meltdown of 2008.

He served on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Board from 1986 to 1994 and was a member of the Kansas House of Representatives in the 1960s.

Following Angell’s presentation, the council is scheduled to hear from Graham Toft of the consulting firm GrowthEconomics, Inc., on “A Comparative Analysis of Key Economic Indicators – Threats and Opportunities.”

The group also will receive updates from the secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Revenue and Transportation.

The meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Board of Regents office, 1000 SW Jackson St., Suite 520, Topeka.

Appeals court chief: keep “merit system” for selecting judges


TOPEKA – The chief judge of the Kansas Court of Appeals asked lawmakers Thursday to turn aside a request by the governor to change the way judges are selected for the Supreme and appellate courts.

Chief Judge Thomas Malone told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the current method of selecting judges is open and transparent and finds better judges than the alternatives that have been proposed.

Malone made his remarks on the second day of hearings before both the Senate and House judiciary committees, who are acting on a request by Gov. Sam Brownback and others to change the way Kansas selects its top judges.

At present, the judges are selected by what is called the “merit system.” A panel of nine people — five lawyers elected through the Kansas Bar and four non-lawyers appointed by the governor – select three finalists. The governor then appoints a judge from among those finalists.

The Bar Association offered Wednesday to give up its majority on the commission if lawmakers think lawyers have too much influence.

In his State of the State speech Tuesday, Brownback called on the Legislature to change the system to either direct election by voters or the “federal model,” in which the governor would select and appoint the judges with the consent of the Senate.

Thursday was set aside for supporters of the current system to make their case to the legislative committees. Proponents of changing the system testified Wednesday.

The battle over judicial selection is largely fallout from the unending controversy over school finance.

Brownback and conservative lawmakers have bristled at court orders to increase money for schools to meet the constitutional mandate that the Legislature provide “suitable” education funding.

A companion proposal, also backed by Brownback, would strip the courts of the authority to determine what “suitable” funding is and place the decision entirely with the Legislature.

Malone said the Court of Appeals has been noncontroversial and hardworking.

In 2012, the court handled more than 1,800 cases and issued 1,286 written opinions, he said.

“Few of our decisions garnered any mention in the press or stirred up any controversy,” he said.

Although Supreme Court and appellate judges are selected the same way, the Court of Appeals could see its judge-selection process changed first.

The selection process for Supreme Court justices is written into the state Constitution and can’t be changed without a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate, followed by a vote of the electorate.

The Legislature can change the selection process for appeals judges with a simple majority in both houses.

Supporters of the current system concede that conservative Republicans probably have the votes to change the selection process for the Appeals Court, but changing the selection of Supreme Court justices is far less certain. There are probably enough votes in the Senate to put an amendment to voters, but the forces for change in the House may have trouble getting the two-thirds majority they need there.

Malone said whatever the lawmakers decide to do, they should continue to have the same system for selecting Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges.

“The Kansas Court of Appeals is not a pilot project for the Legislature to test out the federal model or any other method of judicial selection,” he said.

And if they want to change the system for either or both courts, they should do it through a constitutional amendment, he said.

The current system for picking the Supreme Court was approved by about 60 percent of Kansas voters in 1958.

The vote was spurred by public outrage after a lame-duck governor who had been voted out of office engineered his own appointment to the Supreme Court, by resigning before the end of his gubernatorial term and having his former lieutenant governor appoint him.

“Our current merit selection process reflects the people’s will and the system should only be changed by a public vote,” Malone said.

Among the other speakers at the hearing was Jack Focht, a 79-year-old lawyer from Wichita.

Looking up at the portraits of Supreme Court justices that line the chamber where the Judiciary Committee meets, he said he remembered many of the jurists from his more than 50 years of practicing law.

“Some were good and some were bad,” he said. “The best ones were the ones picked under the merit selection system.”

Bar Association offers to give up lawyers’ majority in choosing Supreme and appeals court judges

Kris Kobach testifies at hearing on judicial selection.

A day after Gov. Sam Brownback called on the Legislature to change the way Kansas selects Supreme Court and appellate judges, the president of the state’s association of lawyers offered to give up its majority on the state Judicial Nominating Commission.

The president of the Kansas Bar Association, Lee Smithyman of Overland Park, told legislators if they think lawyers have too much influence on picking judges, they should keep the system and reduce the number of lawyers in it.

“The Kansas Bar Association is very comfortable with a minority of attorneys on the (nominating) panel,” Smithyman said.

Both the House and Senate judiciary committees held hearings Wednesday on whether to change the selection process to direct election, where voters choose the top judges; or the “federal model” in which the governor appoints judges with the consent of the Senate.

In the current system, a nine-member commission — five lawyers elected by the Bar and four non-lawyers appointed by the governor — reviews applications and nominates three candidates. The governor must make a final selection from among the three nominees.

He proposed what the Bar Association calls the four-five-six plan, in which the Bar would select four members, the governor five, including a nonvoting chairman, and House and Senate leaders would choose six members.

“We lawyers think the present system is excellent,” he added. “We think we need to retain all the virtues that the merit system has given us.”

Brownback criticized the system in his State of the State speech Tuesday night, saying it “fails the democratic test,” and asked lawmakers to change it. He said he’d be fine with either direct election or the federal model.

Smithyman was the only proponent of the current system to testify to the House Judiciary Committee on a day set aside mostly for its opponents, including Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach said he was testifying not in his official capacity, but as a lawyer and former law professor.

He said not only is the current system undemocratic, it doesn’t even pick the best judges.

“I would submit to you that if you look at the quality of the Kansas judiciary, Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and compare it to similarly sized states like Maine, that has the federal model, just look at the resumes, look at the qualifications, I would say most people would say Kansas probably does not do as well,” Kobach said.

Kobach said the same holds true of Kansas’ federal judges, who were drawn from the same talent pool as the state judges but underwent a “crucible of scrutiny” under the federal model before receiving a presidential appointment. “I think most people would agree that the federal list (of judges) is more impressive,” Kobach said.

University of Kansas law professor Stephen Ware told the committee that he sees three major flaws in the current system.

“The current system is undemocratic, the second problem is it is extreme and the third problem is it’s secretive,” Ware said. “You don’t need to trade off judicial quality against democratic legitimacy.”

Sedgwick County District Judge Eric Yost acknowledged to the lawmakers that elections are “a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of money.”

However, he added “The thing is democracy is a messy thing… but these appellate judges have enormous power over all of us.”

Judge Anthony Powell, recently elevated from the Sedgwick County district bench to the Court of Appeals, said it was “somewhat of an uncomfortable position” to testify in favor of changing the selection process, because his new colleagues generally favor the current system.

But, he said the question is simple: “Do free people have the right of self-government or not.”

Tax crusader Norquist blasts immigration crackdowns; Kansas’ Kobach says he should stick to taxes

TOPEKA — Grover Norquist, a hero among anti-tax Republicans, told state legislators Wednesday that it’s OK to be conservative and be against cracking down on illegal immigrants.


Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, argued that immigration is good for the country and took a swipe at Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant law, which requires local law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people they suspect are in the United States illegally.

“They (Arizona) said we’re not for asking everybody for their papers like some World War II movie, we’re interested in only asking for papers of people who violated the law,” Norquist said. “So they passed a law making it illegal to stand on the side of the road looking for work. … (Proponents say) ‘We’re not criminalizing workers or immigrants or anything like that.’ Yes they were. That’s exactly what they were doing.”

By extension, it was also a swipe at the Arizona measure’s principle author, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has worked with cities and states around the country to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Asked about Kobach himself, Norquist said “people can get attention with outrageous positions … but it’s not constructive for the country, it’s not constructive for the modern Republican Party.”


Contacted later, Kobach said Norquist doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

“Grover Norquist has excellent expertise in tax policy,” Kobach said. “He has no legal expertise in immigration law.” The Arizona law, he said, “didn’t criminalize anything that wasn’t already criminal under federal law.”

And he accused Norquist of “hypocrisy” on the immigration issue.

“The irony here is that Grover Norquist claims to deeply care about fiscal responsibility, but the amnesty he favors would cost taxpayers $2.6 trillion over 10 years … It’s unbelievable that he can hold those two opposing views at the same time.”

The cost, he said, would come from newly legalized immigrants being eligible for social services they do not now qualify for. “And that’s before Obamacare,” Kobach added.

Norquist spoke at a breakfast for legislators sponsored by the Kansas Business Coalition for Immigration Reform, a business group that is seeking a more orderly process for immigrants to enter and work in the United States.

The coalition includes the Kansas, Wichita, Topeka, Kansas City and Overland Park chambers of commerce, along with heavy hitters in the agricultural and construction sectors including the state’s Farm Bureau, Livestock Association, Contractors Association and Building Industry Association.

Norquist argued that immigration crackdowns are bad policy and bad politics for Republicans.

Economically, the ability to incorporate immigrants into the workforce is a major advantage the United States has over competitors such as China and Japan, he said.

“We’re way ahead of other countries in the ability to have immigrants come to the United States and become Americans very rapidly and contribute to the growth of our economy, both in big cities and in rural areas,” Norquist said. “It’s one of the strengths we have as a nation and I think it’s very important for us to keep an eye on that, because if you sort of get some stuff right, if you have the right tax policy but you’ve got the wrong immigration policy, you can do great damage to a state’s economy or the national economy.”

Politically, the issue hurts Republicans because even though polls might show majorities favoring crackdowns on illegal immigration, most don’t consider it important enough to influence their vote, Norquist said.

Those who do consider immigration a voting issue, especially Hispanic voters, are primarily on the other side, he said.

Hard-line immigration policies drive those voters away from Republicans, even though many generally agree with GOP stances on issues such as abortion and traditional values.

“So we’ll have a conversation saying: ‘Look, I want to talk to you about all the issues we agree on. Now, while we talk, you won’t mind if Igor here goes upstairs and grabs your aunt and drags her down the stairs and throws her across the border,” Norquist said.

Norquist likened calls for increased enforcement of current laws to the 55 mph national highway speed limit of the 1970s, which was routinely flouted by motorists.

“What we did do eventually is change the speed limit so that it matched reality,” We need to have an immigration law and enforcement that matches reality.”

Kobach said if his views are as outrageous as Norquist said, he’s in good company because at least 60 percent of the American people agree with him.

And Kobach said he doesn’t know how Norquist can gauge the intensity of people’s feelings on the issue.

“I think he’s making it up,” Kobach said. “He has to come up with a theory because massive numbers of Americans disagree with him.”

While several anti-illegal immigration bills are expected to be introduced this legislative session, they probably won’t get a lot of attention, said Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita and one numerous lawmakers who attended Norquist’s speech.

Brunk said a fight over immigration isn’t worth it because it could divide Republicans and influence other high-priority GOP issues such as tax cuts, reducing spending and changing the way the state selects appellate judges.

“Anything new on immigration that could potentially split that up is going on the back burner,” Brunk said.

Record lottery ticket sales means $81 million jackpot for state government

TOPEKA – Record sales of lottery tickets led to a record profit for state government last year, the director of the Kansas Lottery told lawmakers Tuesday.

“As a result of the record sales year, the lottery was able to transfer to the state’s financial coffers approximately $72 million, a record amount,” acting Lottery Director Dennis Taylor said in a report to the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee.

In addition, lottery winners paid about $9 million in income taxes on their winnings, for a total profit to the state of about $81 million.

The amounts Taylor reported are for traditional lottery sales only, and do not include income from the casino operations that the lottery technically owns and operates.

By law, most lottery income goes to fund economic development projects, with smaller amounts earmarked for the state general fund and prison construction and maintenance. A tiny fraction goes to a fund to fight gambling addiction.

Bigger jackpots in the Powerball and Mega Millions games fueled lottery sales in the 2012 fiscal year, Taylor said.

That included a world record jackpot of $656 million that was shared by three winners – including one in Kansas — in the multi-state Mega Millions game.

Lottery ticket sales in fiscal 2012 totaled slightly more than $246 million. The state paid out $139 million in prizes and about $14.4 million in commissions to retailers.

Taylor reported to the committee on his third day on the job, after moving to the lottery department from the state Department of Administration.

The lottery also worked last year to improve security, including implementing a process called “keyless validation,” Taylor said.

That allows players to validate their own tickets by running them under a bar-code reader before they turn them in for payment.

That guards against the possibility that unscrupulous clerks who work for lottery retailers could tell customers they had lost, and then pocket the winnings themselves.

In addition, the lottery is using undercover investigators to root out another way of cheating at the sales counter called “micro-scratching,” Taylor said.

“Micro-scratching is the term used when a clerk removes a tiny amount of latex from the play area of a scratch ticket in an effort to determine if the ticket has a prize,” Taylor said in his report. “If the ticket has a prize, the clerk purchases and cashes the ticket. If there is no prize, the ticket is sold to an unsuspecting customer.”

Brownback makes pitch for austerity to freshmen lawmakers

Gov. Sam Brownback asks new lawmakers to join him in push for smaller state government.

TOPEKA – Previewing his priorities for the legislative session, Gov. Sam Brownback asked freshman lawmakers Tuesday to stand with him in cutting the size of government.

Support from the freshman class will be crucial for Brownback as he moves to implement his vision of a more austere state that costs less, taxes less and does less.

More than a third of this year’s senators and representatives will be new to their jobs, following court-ordered redistricting last year and a heavily funded, largely successful effort by business interests to replace moderate Republicans with conservatives.

In the House, 49 of 125 representatives are freshmen; in the Senate, it’s 16 of 40.

Brownback said that in an era of global competitiveness, government must follow ongoing business trends toward cutting spending wherever possible.

“You’re seeing things in the United States that have to be globally competitive have really leaned down their operations and focused on what it is we’re about,” Brownback told the new lawmakers. “To me one of the missing things that government has not done, for the last 50 years probably, is look at its own efficiencies, or inefficiencies if you want to look at it that way.”

Now, he said, the austerity philosophy is starting to take hold in government, which has traditionally run on a “cost-plus” basis where the government decided what it needed to do and then levied the taxes to do it.

“What you’re seeing now taking place, and you’re right at the front end of it, is that government at all levels, local, state and soon to be federal, saying oh, wait a minute, that era is over,” Brownback said.

Like businesses, states will have to compete with each other and other countries to attract and keep businesses and people, he said.

“We’ve got to produce the best educational system, the best highways, the best public-safety structure we possibly can,” Brownback said. “And we’ve got to bring our price point down so that we can have a tax structure that attracts people to the state of Kansas, ‘cause they can go other places, and do, and we’ve seen that.”

One of Wichita’s new legislators, Republican Mark Kahrs, said he is looking forward to trying to meet the governors challenge as a member of the Appropriations Committee, a key panel in the crafting of the state budget.

Kahrs said he sees this as a “unique time to serve in the legislature” because of the large number of new members and while “facing deep financial crisis in our country and our state.”

“Where there is waste, we need to eliminate it and where we can consolidate, we need to consolidate,” Kahrs said.