Senate panel considers resolution on Flint Hills burning

flinthillsburningTOPEKA — A resolution that seeks to allow rangeland burning in the Flint Hills without sending Wichita and other cities out of compliance with air pollution regulations drew testimony in a Senate panel  Thursday.

Each year, millions of acres of prairie land are burned in the Flint Hills. The process helps keep trees and other woody plants from encroaching on the grasslands and helps provide richer fodder for cattle.

Burning in the grasslands is an economic and environmental issue, said Mike Beam, senior vice president of the Kansas Livestock Association.

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Rail service advocates seek state support

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TOPEKA — Proponents of expanded passenger train travel in Kansas urged lawmakers Wednesday to support such expansion and seek federal money to help.

Neighboring states have received several million dollars to develop or improve passenger rail travel in the last year, said Mark Corriston, Kansas vice president of the Northern Flyer Alliance.

“These are not distant developments in Florida or California or some other place where we are always hearing about big developments,” he told the Senate Transportation Committee.

States such as Missouri and Ohio were just a little more prepared and were able to tap into federal recovery investment dollars, he said.

Corriston’s group is pushing for the creation of passenger rail service that would connect Fort Worth to Kansas City, Mo. through Wichita.

Senate Bill 409 would allow the state Department of Transportation to work with groups along the proposed route. It also would allow Kansas to enter into agreements with Amtrak to implement the service.

“This is truly a vision for the future,” Corriston said.

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Legislative leaders agree not to work Fridays to save money

TOPEKA — Republican legislative leaders from the House and Senate announced Monday that neither chamber would work Fridays for the moth of January to save the state money.

The leaders also agreed to propose a 5 percent pay cut for legislators and to rescind the recent increase in legislative subsistence (per diem) pay, taking the daily allowance back from $116 to $109/day for food and lodging, a 6 percent cut. Those changes would have to be approved by the Legislature.

In past years both chambers would typically gavel in, then gavel out on Fridays. Lawmakers would get paid but usually no work was done.

“These calendar changes and cuts in legislative compensation are part of our overall approach to reduce costs at this time of severe stress on the state budget. Legislators want to do their part.” said Senate President Stephen Morris, R-Hugoton.

Lawmakers are paid $88.66 each day they serve in their elected capacity. They also receive a $109 per diem to cover expenses. So during a typical 90-day session, a lawmaker will pull in $17,789.40.

The furlough days – January 15, 22, and 29th – could save the legislative budget up to $141,728.

Exceptions will be made for lawmakers who work on the Senate Ways and Means and House Appropriations committees, which handle budget issues.

“Despite the short three-month duration of the legislative session, we know it’s important to control legislative costs along with other reductions in government spending. Today’s pay reduction proposal for the Legislature is a significant step in that process,” said Speaker of the House Rep. Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson.

Lawmakers will be grappling with an expected shortfall of more than $300 million for the 2011 budget, which starts July 1.

Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, will unveil his proposed 2011 budget tonight during his first and final State of the State speech at 7 p.m.

More bad revenue news for Kansas

MoneyTOPEKA – Lawmakers could be faced with cutting more than $100 million from the state’s current budget when they return to Topeka in January, the House budget committee heard Monday.

That assumes there are no further revenue drops, the governor does not order more cuts and state agencies do not request additional money to cover their budget needs.

The latter is unlikely. Alan Conroy, director of legislative research, told the House Appropriations Committee that the state Education Department already had a request of about $91 million additional funds, due in part to more students using free or reduced lunches and an influx in students.

Revenue news was not good in September, which reflected taxes from back to school shopping, money from the federal “Cash for Clunkers Program” and the first quarter of estimated income taxes, Conroy said.

Taxes came in about $67 million below estimated revenues, he said.

“Bottom line the news is not good, we are down about 5 percent overall and it is almost all in individual income taxes,” he said. Read More »

Kansas lawmakers propose double fines for bilking veterans, service families

kansas statehouseThree state lawmakers are proposing to double the fines for defrauding veterans, their surviving spouses, or families of deployed service members.

The proposal would amend the Kansas Consumer Protection Act to increase the fines from $10,000 to $20,000.

It is being proposed by Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, and Rep. Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie.

Double penalties already apply to fraud against the elderly and the disabled.

The expansion would affect about 237,000 veterans living in Kansas and the families of 2,200 service personnel currently deployed on active duty.

The legislators said they plan to introduce their bill when the Legislature convenes in January.

Governor cuts K-12, higher ed and more to fill $160 million shortfall

TOPEKA – The governor on Thursday used $90 million in cuts to the state budget and various accounting maneuvers to fill a $160 million shortfall.

The move comes the day after fiscal year 2010 began and includes a 2 percent reduction to general state aid for kindergarten through 12th grade. Higher education also saw another 2 percent, or $15 million taken from its budget.

“There is no way to spin this that this is not going to create pain for them,” said Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat.

The state budget has already been cut three times since January, and this time departments who had watched their money disappear previously – such as the Department of Corrections – were left untouched.

While Parkinson’s moves eliminated a further $90.6 million, he leaned on more money coming from the federal government, delayed projects and other money sources to add $69.3 million back into the budget. The proposal does not include any tax increases or delay anticipated tax decreases.

Included in that portion of the proposal is:

  • $30 million in delayed road maintenance programs from the Department of Transportation

  • $2.8 million taken from the Health Care Stabilization Fund,

  • $4.15 million no longer needed to make Cessna bond payments.

The governor said he hoped the cuts would be enough to keep the budget in the black.

On Monday, Parkinson also said he plans to ask the State Finance Council to allow the state to borrow $700 million from its self to cover payments due in July.

Other cuts to the budget include:

  • 2 percent, or $641,512, reduction to Department of Health & Environment

  • 2 percent, or $132,477, cut to the School for the Blind

  • 2 percent, or $196,395, cut to the School for the Deaf

  • Eliminating $50,000 in grants for the Arts Commission.

Parkinson also gave his office, the lieutenant governor’s office and the Attorney General’s office 2 percent cuts totaling almost $250,000. He also asked Legislative Agencies, which include research, post audit and the Legislature to cut $540,000.

For more, read Friday’s Wichita Eagle.

Governor vetoes provision blocking funds to Planned Parenthood

TOPEKA – Gov. Mark Parkinson excised a provision in the state’s wrap up budget that would have prevented Planned Parenthood from receiving money for non-abortion family planning services.

He approved the remaining majority of the Senate substitute House Bill 2373.

Planned Parenthood last year received about $300,000 of the money, which are federal funds that the state administers.

“Regardless of one’s views on whether abortion should be allowed in this country, hopefully we can all agree that we should make every effort to prevent unplanned pregnancies,” wrote the governor in his veto message. “Access to affordable family planning services and contraceptives is critical if we are to continue reducing the number of abortions that occur in this state.”

State Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, inserted the provision into the omnibus budget bill during the Legislature’s wrap-up session earlier this month. Both chambers passed the bill including the provision.

While the money cannot be used for abortions, Huelskamp proposed blocking the funds because the Planned Parenthood does offer abortion services, he said in a release when the budget bill passed.

Parkinson, a Democrat, noted in his veto message that the group was eligible under the federal grant to receive the money, so the state could not block the funds.

For more details on the veto and the budget, read Saturday’s Wichita Eagle.

Below is the full veto message from Parkinson:

Section 89 has been line-item vetoed in its entirety:

“Regardless of one’s views on whether abortion should be allowed in this country, hopefully we can all agree that we should make every effort to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Access to affordable family planning services and contraceptives is critical if we are to continue reducing the number of abortions that occur in this state.

“This section would prohibit distribution of Title X moneys to private family planning providers unless they are either a hospital or provide comprehensive primary and preventative care in addition to family planning services. This proviso would prevent funding for two facilities of other eligible family planning providers. These facilities do not perform abortions, and by law, Title X funding cannot be used for abortion services.

“Both of these facilities provide affordable access to contraceptives and family planning services for women who are significantly below the poverty level. These women are most at risk for unplanned pregnancies. The family planning services provided by these facilities help lower the likelihood of unplanned pregnancy, and thus reduce abortions. Eliminating funding for programs intended to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies does nothing to help reduce abortions in Kansas.

“I am also concerned this proviso violates Title X of the Public Service Act. The facilities ineligible for funding under this proviso are, by law, eligible under Title X to receive the grants. The Public Service Act is clear that states are not permitted to refuse the award of Title X funding to entities that meet the statutory requirements for the grants. I therefore find it necessary to line-item veto this proviso.”

Legislature wraps up, leaves town

TOPEKA – After a deadlock that lasted several hours the House and Senate agreed on a series of bills they would pass to finish the session early Saturday:

The bills would:

–Allow local school districts to keep local funding levels regardless of changes in state funding.

–Protect state employee pay by prohibiting state agencies from moving money intended for salaries into accounts used for programs.

–Bar future “snake annexations,” such as one Mulvane used to annex property for a casino site along the Kansas Turnpike. Unlike previous efforts, Senate Bill 51, is not retroactive. It goes into effect July 1. The bill passed 23 to 11 in the Senate.

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Fire alarm in the Statehouse – that’s one way to stop the debate

TOPEKA – Just when you think things at the Capitol are dragging, life gets interesting.

The House was in the middle of debating a procedural point – essentially arguing if they could or could not re-debate a measure allowing law enforcement to pull people over for not wearing a seat belt – when the emergency lights started flashing and klaxon blaring.

Rumor is a fire alarm triggered on the first floor of the Statehouse, but it could easily be a false alarm or dust kicked up from the renovation construction.

In the House at least, most people’s first reaction was to wait and see if the alarms such off. Then lawmakers started to slowly wander out.

Even in an emergency, the rules must be followed. Just before leaving, House Speaker Rep. Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchison, declared the House in recess.

Lawmakers, lobbyists, visitors and even journalists are milling about outside the building while the Topeka Fire Department checks out the alarm.

While the weather is lovely and it’s nice to be out side, this is a somewhat unwelcome disruption. Lawmakers are nearing the end of session, they could adjourn late tonight or early tomorrow.

After a busy night, the Senate is recessed to the sound of the gavel waiting for the House to take action on a handful of bills.

Earlier this morning, the House sent a energy bill to the governor’s desk. The measure way part of a negotiated agreement that allows one coal plant to be built in Western Kansas.

UPDATE: People are starting to trickle back in at 12:45 p.m. and the fire trucks are leaving so everything must have been given the all clear.

Topeka Fire Battalion Chief Ron Hufford said water leaked into a sensor in a construction area on the South side of the building triggering the fire alarm.

At 12:58 p.m., O’Neal gaveled the House back in.

Text of Gov. Parkinson’s address to a joint session of the Legislature

Following is the prepared text of Gov. Mark Parkinson’s speech to a joint session of the Legislature.

Usually, both chambers only meet for special occasions such as the State of the State address in January. This meeting is a little unusual, then again it’s not every day a state gets a new governor late in the session.

Parkinson, a Democrat, was sworn in Tuesday evening as former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius left to take over as the Health and Human Services secretary.

This is his first chance to really address all the lawmakers and outline his goals.

Below is the speech as prepared for delivery.

“At the outset, I want to thank Speaker Mike O’Neal for granting me the honor to speak with all of you in this spectacular chamber. I had the privilege of serving in the House almost 20 years ago and to be back in this magnificent setting is invigorating.

“I also want to acknowledge all the other dignitaries who have taken the time to be here. Thanks to all our legislative leaders: Speaker O’Neal, President Morris, Leader Hensley, Leader Davis. I appreciate all the other legislative leaders for being here and each of you.

“I especially want to thank some groups of people who could not be here today: our brave troops fighting in two wars, including our own Melanie Meier; and the men and women of our public health and emergency management teams. From floods to flu, they are protecting communities across the state and I know you join me in thanking them for their continued hard work. Last but not least, I’d like to thank my wife Stacy for being here. We’ve been best friends, confidants and husband and wife for the last 26 years and she is everything to me.

“In this era of political division, we harbor many differences. We will not see eye to eye on every issue. We will not always agree. We will not. But, we will always share one thing: we share, all of us here, a love for the state of Kansas. Today, I’ve come to tell you all that this common bond will always be stronger than our differences. I have lived here for all of my 51 years and I love the state: our heritage, what we stand for, what we are and what we will become.

“I love our origin. I’m proud that we could have chosen to be a free state or a slave state and that we chose to be a free state. I’m proud that our ancestors migrated here from the east coast, not looking for fame or fortune, but rather to protect freedom. I’m so happy that I grew up in Wichita. As a small child, our two blocks seemed as big as the whole world. We explored, and we felt safe, secure and loved. And later I would become grateful for the education that I received at Heights High School and Wichita State University.

“I loved the time I spent as a child during the summers in Scott City. The economic engines of the state are all over, but the heart and soul of this state is in the West. As I grew older I spent time in every nook and cranny of the state and learned to love it all: the great heritage of Southeast Kansas and the Northeast, where we now live with its incredible entrepreneurs and opportunities for all Kansans. I love that we are the state of John Brown, William Allen White, Birger Sandzen, Alf Landon, Dwight Eisenhower, and Bob Docking.

“Most of all, I love our state motto: Ad Astra Per Aspera. The message that our founders sent us almost 150 years ago has never been more relevant than it is today: though our path may be rife with difficulty, we will reach the stars.

“That is why I’m honored and humbled to serve at a time when Kansas is hurting. You all know the numbers. The state and country are in the midst of the longest recession since the 1930’s. Tens of thousands of Kansans have lost their jobs, our revenues have plummeted, retirees have seen their accounts dwindle and fear is rampant. In spite of this, my message today is one of optimism.

“Throughout history, we have faced challenges that appeared to be insurmountable. The Great Depression, the Dust Bowls and the challenges of two world wars. In each of those occasions, Kansans have not only survived, we have prospered. Make no mistake: we will face and defeat our current economic challenge in the same way we have in the past: with a determined optimism, rooted in the common spirit that pushes all Kansans to the stars no matter what the obstacles. And when we defeat it we will come out stronger and better than before.

“The message of our shared past is clear: our belief is stronger than any doubt; our determination greater than any obstacle; and our passion more furious than any storm.

“State government must play a central role in this turnaround. For us to succeed in defeating this challenge, we must do three things. Our immediate need is to balance our state budget in a responsible way. This will require a post-partisan spirit of shared sacrifice.

“Our current deficit is $328 million. Filling that deficit will not be easy. The number is too large to fill it solely with additional budget cuts. Those cuts, on top of the cuts we have already imposed, would jeopardize critical state programs. Cutting these budgets $328 million would hurt education. But it is more than that. We talk about across the board cuts in numbers and percentages, but behind each of those numbers are real Kansans. Drastic cuts would hurt education, public safety, our corrections system and those that are disabled. And for those who believe business would be benefited by this approach, let me tell you that drastic cuts would diminish economic development efforts and hurt our ability to attract and retain new business to this state. On the other hand, I recognize that $328 million is too large a number to fill the hole solely with revenue enhancements. It would be a mistake to raise taxes.

“Fortunately, there is a middle ground. We need to share the sacrifice and address the deficit with both responsible budget cuts and revenue enhancements. Let me be very specific. On the revenue side, there are about $250 million in enhancements that we can make that won’t raise a single person’s taxes. These include delaying tax cuts, decoupling and recognizing gaming revenue. The good news is that these revenue enhancements don’t require us to raise anyone’s taxes. Tax cuts would be delayed, but no business or person would see their taxes increase.

“Shared sacrifice will then require us to make modest additional cuts to state government. Cuts that will be painful but that will not be crippling. These votes will not be easy. But, they are necessary. And I am confident that you will rise to the occasion and show both the leadership and courage to make the votes to balance this budget.

“This shared sacrifice is the Kansas way of life. When we face a crisis in this state, all Kansans join in assisting the recovery. But no group should be forced to bear the burden by themselves. That’s not the way Kansas works.

“The second action that we need to take as a State is to create and protect jobs. Our unemployment rate has increased from 4 percent to 6.5 percent. Kansans need to know that we are fighting as hard as we can to prevent additional job losses. There are several strategies we have to do this. We must promptly and efficiently put the Recovery Act funds in place. With its investments in education we are protecting jobs. With its funding of new highway programs and energy efficiency programs, we will create jobs. A key priority of this administration will be to continue to get the Recovery fund money working in Kansas as quickly as possible.

“We will protect and create jobs by holding on to previous victories we have had with NBAF and the Base realignment and closure process. NBAF was a great victory and now Texas is trying to take it away. My message to Texas is simple: if you interfere with NBAF, not only will we mess with Texas, we will crush your frivolous attempts to take it away.

“We will create jobs by aggressively pursuing companies that build on our core competencies. I will work tirelessly with our Department of Commerce to assist in its efforts to increase employment in our agriculture, manufacturing and energy industries.

“We will also create jobs for the future. We’ll continue our close work with the Kansas Bioscience Authority to solidify our space in the animal health sector. We’ll work closely with Kansas University to make sure that KU becomes a National Cancer Institute designated center. We’ll also work hard to attract renewable energy companies to the state. Kansas should be a national hub of both wind farms and factories that supply parts to those farms. Working together we will make that happen. This hard work will bear fruit and together we’ll protect the jobs of Kansans as we move through this recession.

“Finally, in order to turn this economy around, we need to unify the state. The time for typical party politics is over. The challenges are too daunting and the stakes are too high. It’s time for all of us, Republicans and Democrats, to forget about party politics. It’s time for us to do what our ancestors have done when faced with great adversity. We will roll up our sleeves, work hard, make the tough decisions and move forward. Not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Kansans, to solve the problems we face.

“I am confident with the legislative leaders that we have in place we will get this done. In President Morris, Leader Hensley, Speaker O’Neal, and Leader Davis, you have provided the State with outstanding Kansans who have placed the best interest of the State ahead of their own. We will make a great team as we move forward.

“I know that we are fixated on the 2010 budget and rightly so. The pain and fear that people are experiencing is real. But there will be brighter days ahead. I’ve learned in business to not just think about the next year, but to think about five, 10 and even 20 years from now. If we make the right decisions, our long term future will be bright. Bear with me as I tell you the vision I have of our future. I can see it as clearly as I can see you sitting before me today.

“In the year 2030, agriculture and manufacturing will thrive in Kansas. China and India will have 600 million new middle class citizens and if we keep our markets open, they will drive demand for our agriculture products and our aircraft for years to come.

“In the year 2030, NBAF will have been built and tens of thousands of high paying jobs will populate the corridor between Columbia, Missouri and Manhattan. Kansas will be known as both the Air Capital of the World and the Animal Health Capital of the World. In the year 2030, we will have fully exploited our wind energy resource in Western Kansas. We won’t have the impressive 1,000 megawatts of wind power we have now, we’ll have 10,000 to 20,000 megawatts of clean, renewable power. Factories will dot the state to supply these wind farms, and a corridor of factories from Wichita to Salina will develop that will make Kansas the renewable energy leader of the country.

“In the year 2030, KU will have received National Cancer Institute designation and all Kansans, regardless of income or status will receive the highest quality of cancer care available in the world. In the year 2030, we’ll have a growing population, made up primarily by increase in our Latino and Asian American populations. We will recognize that these new populations offer us a tremendous opportunity to fill all the jobs left vacant by retirees and that these new populations offer us a whole new group of consumers. Unlike states that shun these populations, we will recognize them as a great opportunity.

“In the year 2030, our K-12 system will be using the latest in technology so that every school child, regardless of where they are from, will receive the same high quality education as every other child in the state. In the year 2030, our regents system will excel. We’ll spend our time talking not just about whether our basketball or football programs are in the top 25. We’ll spend time talking about whether our medical schools, engineering schools, and undergraduate programs are in the top 25.

“All of these things can happen. You can make them happen. If we set aside the petty politics that permeates this country, and instead pull together, this vision of the future isn’t just the musings of an aging politician. This vision of prosperity that I’ve laid before you is our destiny.

“I close with a quote from Winston Churchill. During the worst of WWII a reporter asked Churchill if he was worried about how history would be treated. Again, he took no time and quickly responded.

“Churchill said, ‘History will be kind to me because I intend to write it.’

“Tonight, we open the next great chapter in our state’s history. Be certain: the title of that chapter, like so many great ones before it will be Ad Astra Per Aspera.

“Decades from now, our children and grandchildren and their children will look back and ask how we responded to the greatest crisis in 70 years. Did we panic or lead? Did we retreat to partisan interests or embrace shared sacrifice? Did we bicker or did we set aside party politics to work together as Kansans? I know the answer to each of those questions because I have confidence in each of you. I know that despite our differences, we share love for Kansas.

“So, let’s not just name this chapter with our great state motto, let’s get to work writing a history that all future generations can be proud of. God Bless each of you, this State and our great Country.”