Monthly Archives: December 2011

Glickman praises Bush

Former Wichita congressman Dan Glickman is among those noting how President Bush’s work against AIDS and malaria is paying off. Through the establishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, Bush helped deliver lifesaving treatment and support to millions of children and adults around the globe. Glickman, now chairman of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, wrote: “If a lifelong Democrat can step forward to praise a conservative Republican president for his extraordinary accomplishments in global development, hopefully my colleagues — of both political parties — will see that fighting HIV/AIDS and malaria, as well as helping developing countries modernize their economies, agricultural systems and political structures, is something we can all agree protects American interests and values.”

No tears shed over Siedlecki’s departure

Newspaper editorial boards aren’t lamenting Rob Siedlecki’s decision to resign as secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. The Lawrence Journal-World editorial said that Siedlecki hatched reforms “without consulting either the people who would have to implement his plans or the people who would be directly impacted by them.” The Hays Daily News described Siedlecki as a “hatchet man” who decimated SRS. “The euphoria of short-term savings eventually will be outweighed by much larger costs down the road taking care of the neediest Kansans,” it said. The Winfield Daily Courier said that Siedlecki’s initiatives weren’t necessarily wrong but were “ill-vetted” and “ham-handed.”

Local K-12 property-tax hikes no easy sell

Under Gov. Sam Brownback’s school-finance proposal, local school districts would have unlimited ability to raise property taxes for public schools, subject to a protest petition forcing a local vote. But a SurveyUSA poll, sponsored by KWCH, Channel 12, suggests such tax hikes wouldn’t be an easy sell to voters: 52 percent said they wouldn’t be willing to pay higher property taxes if the money went directly to local schools, while 44 percent said they would. Fifty-five percent did favor the governor’s plan of giving local school boards more control in how much they spend on at-risk students and bilingual education.

Gingrich’s attack on judiciary is irresponsible

If Newt Gingrich wants to be taken seriously as a potential president, he needs to stop his irresponsible attacks on the federal judiciary. He told reporters last week that, if elected, he would abolish entire courts if he thought their decisions were out of step with the country, the Washington Post reported. He then suggested on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he might send federal law enforcement to arrest judges who make controversial rulings in order to compel them to appear before congressional hearings. So much for judicial independence and the constitutional separation of powers. “It may be expedient to appeal to specific voters in primaries or caucuses, but it’s a constitutional disaster,” said Bert Brandenburg, an advocate for an independent judiciary. “Americans want courts that can uphold their rights and not be accountable to politicians.”

Genesis proposal could be good for rink, fitness

Given the financial woes of the Wichita Ice Center over the years, it was a relief to see it on the Wichita City Council agenda today for an encouraging reason: a proposal for Genesis Health Clubs, which has managed the center since March, to put a fitness facility on the center’s underused second floor, as well as for a 10-year extension of the management contract. Though the city would issue a 10-year general obligation bond to borrow $750,000 for Genesis to do the remodeling for the fitness center, Genesis would be responsible for paying off the debt and equipping the fitness facility. The proposal seems like a way to bring more people into the facility and promote fitness, as well as build on Genesis’ success so far in putting the rink on a sustainable financial path.

So much for Boeing’s promise on tanker jobs

A senior Boeing official reportedly told Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, that the company intends to finish the new tankers in Washington state and not in Wichita — this even though the company told Kansas officials both during and after it won the government contract that the deal would lead to 7,500 new jobs in Kansas. “The company’s refusal to ‘dance with the girl who brung them’ on the tanker contract is incomprehensible, and I urge Boeing’s senior leaders to reconsider this decision,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Will Brownback undo arts fiasco?

Gov. Sam Brownback told the Lawrence Journal-World that he plans to revisit the arts in his proposed budget next year, though he wouldn’t provide any details. He should undo the disastrous decision he made this past legislative session to veto state funding for the Kansas Arts Commission and to lay off all its staff. He said at the time that private funding could fill the gap and that the budget cut would not affect federal funding. Neither proved true, as private fundraising has lagged and the National Endowment for the Arts and regional arts groups determined that Kansas was ineligible for grants.

Kobach opposes national popular vote

Secretary of State Kris Kobach was among six Republican secretaries of state to join Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., earlier this month to warn against the national popular vote movement, which was motivated by Al Gore’s 2000 loss of the presidency despite winning the popular vote. Eight states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation pledging to award their 132 electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote nationally, even if another candidate wins the majority in their states. For the initiative to take effect, states with a total of at least 270 electoral votes would have to sign on. McConnell called it an “absurd and dangerous concept” that could lead to endless recounts and litigation and a constitutional crisis. Kobach warned that if the national popular vote prevails, “the incentive for voter fraud increases dramatically overall because you can just go to the state that is the weakest link in the chain and has the lowest protections against voter fraud and run up a huge number of fraudulently cast votes in that state much more effectively than going to a battleground state.”

Panel right on legislators’ benefits

The Kansas Public Employees Retirement System study commission’s recommendation to move future state employees to a 401(k)-style plan will take some serious legislative review and debate. But one aspect of it is a no-brainer (though lawmakers may not see it that way): including legislators in the new system. “The idea here, at least philosophically, is that the legislators do not have a richer benefit than our KPERS employees, said commission member Rebecca Proctor. As we said in an Eagle editorial in October, “if lawmakers are going to require schoolteachers and other public employees to pay more to help shore up KPERS, it’s only fair that they also eliminate some of the special rules that greatly inflate their own pensions.” As it is, lawmakers’ pension benefits are calculated as if they are paid every day of the year and get a per diem expense allotment for a year lasting 372 days.

Next SRS chief needs to work well with others

The tenure of Gov. Sam Brownback’s first choice to head the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, Rob Siedlecki (in photo), turned out to be as brief and curious as it was transformative and controversial. Last week’s announcement that Siedlecki was returning to Florida was framed as somehow expected. “I promised Gov. Brownback one year to transform SRS to make it more effective and efficient, and we have done so,” Siedlecki said. But less than a month ago, Siedlecki responded to a legislator’s criticism of him as an out-of-stater by noting he had bought a home in Kansas and was paying taxes. “I prefer you call me a Kansan,” Siedlecki told him. In the end, Siedlecki made the mistake of trying to do far too much too soon, according to an ideological agenda, at an agency that serves some of the Kansans most in need of care and stability. Brownback now needs to find someone who can work better with others, as the Legislature scrutinizes the changes Siedlecki made.

Finish the city-county land swap

Just when it seems as if all’s well between the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County, it isn’t. The latest friction is over the city’s slowness in transferring two parcels of land to the county, as per last year’s settlement of the city’s $10.2 million jail-fees debt. Last week County Manager William Buchanan referred to “legal wrangling and bureaucratic bungling” with the city over the land, as the city told The Eagle it had “nothing to report on this issue” and county commissioners raised the prospect of returning to court. Officials at both local governments need to ensure that doesn’t happen, by finalizing what was a smart and needed deal.

Golf course proposal is reasonable

Good for the Wichita Park Board for listening to the public and proposing a way to keep all of the city’s golf courses open. City Manager Robert Layton had recommended that the city close one of the courses because of declining usage and trouble servicing the debt on the Auburn Hills Golf Course. But the park board recommended last week that the city raise greens fees slightly, delay some capital improvement projects at the courses, and do a better job marketing the courses. The plan is a reasonable alternative that is supported by golfers. Well played.

Pro-con: Did Sebelius make right call on Plan B?

Kathleen Sebelius made the right decision on Plan B One-Step, the emergency contraceptive. As secretary of health and human services, Sebelius overruled a decision by the Food and Drug Administration allowing the drug to be sold over the counter to girls under age 17. The drug has been available without a prescription to women 17 and older since 2009. Sebelius said the drugmaker had not adequately studied the possible side effects of the drug on pre-teenage girls. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg issued a statement saying the drug was safe to sell over the counter. We respect those who want FDA decisions to be based on science alone. Up to a point, they should be. The uncertain effects of Plan B One-Step on girls as young as 11, some of whom can become pregnant, puts science into a human development context in this case. Sebelius, a former Kansas governor, deserves credit for using common sense to seek more information before Plan B One-Step becomes available over the counter to girls so young they may have no idea what it does or what it might do to them. — Winfield Daily Courier

In overruling decisions by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s professional staff and its commissioner to allow easier access to the emergency contraception Plan B One-Step, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ignored scientific evidence and a carefully conducted two-year inquiry. Sebelius had the authority to do so, but that doesn’t mean it was a good idea. Given the medical risks and financial consequences of unplanned teenage pregnancies, her decision advances neither public health nor the public interest. FDA’s job is not family counseling. Its job is to examine and assess scientific evidence to determine if drugs are safe, if they work, if there are reasons to restrict their availability and, if so, what those restrictions should be. That’s what the FDA finally had done regarding Plan B. It is what Sebelius now has undone. — St. Louis Post-Dispatch

No clear winner, loser in debate

Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney were the main targets in Thursday’s GOP presidential debate, with the other candidates aggressively trying to derail their front-runner status. As for the overall scorecard, here is the Washington Post’s analysis: “There was no clear winner Thursday night and no obvious loser. No one committed a major mistake, and some of the strongest performances were turned in by candidates in the lower tier of the competition, demonstrating both the urgency of attracting more support and the improvement of virtually everyone in the field over the course of so many debates.”

Was Jesus a free marketer or an occupier?

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, recently declared that “Jesus was a free marketer, not an occupier.” He wrote that “Jesus rejected collectivism and the mentality that has occupied America for the last few decades: that everyone gets a trophy — equal outcomes for inequitable performance,” and he chastised Occupy protesters for being “unproductive.” Barb Shelly of the Kansas City Star noted that God “endowed humans with an endless ability to conscript Jesus and his words for their own ends.” Still, she thinks “it’s pretty clear that Jesus would push back against a system in which the rich use their clout to get richer, while politicians reel in campaign cash and tell the poor and the sick and the unemployed that everything would be OK if they would just get off their duffs and show some initiative.”

Universities need abuse reporting policies

Good for the Kansas Board of Regents for directing the state’s public universities to draft proposed policies on mandatory reporting of child abuse to law authorities. Kansas has a mandatory-reporting law for teachers and certain other professionals, but it doesn’t apply to universities. The issue came to the regents’ attention after the Penn State scandal, in which school officials apparently did not report to authorities their suspicions of child abuse by an assistant football coach. University employees should have more than just a moral responsibility to report suspected abuse; they should have a legal one, too.

How many jobs would Keystone pipeline create?

There is no doubt that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would create jobs, but there is considerable doubt about the number. Many lawmakers, including Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., have cited company estimates that the project would create about 20,000 jobs, including 13,000 construction jobs and 7,000 jobs among supply manufacturers. But Washington Post fact-checkers noted that the company is counting the construction jobs based on “one person, one year,” which can inflate the number. The U.S. State Department and Keystone’s contractor estimated there would be 5,000 to 6,000 construction jobs. Also, the 7,000 total of supplier jobs assumes that the steel pipe will be fabricated in the United States, which may not be the case.

Would REINS act unleash polluters?

All four of Kansas’ representatives in Congress voted last week for the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which would require that Congress approve any federal regulation that will affect the economy by $100 million or more. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, called the measure a “commonsense bill” and hoped it would “ provide some measure of regulatory relief for our job creators.” But others view the bill, which has no chance of clearing the Senate, as purely political. And some advocacy groups warned of its dangers if it were to become law. Public Citizen called the legislation “the greatest threat to public health and safety in a generation.” Charles D. Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said: “This latest legislative assault would undermine decades of hard work to ensure public health is protected over special interests.”

More details about Brownback tax plan

Gov. Sam Brownback has disclosed a few more details about the tax-reform proposal he plans to unveil during his State of the State address in January. He told that Lawrence Journal-World that he wants to lower the state’s individual income-tax rate to make it the second lowest in the region, behind Colorado’s. Currently, Kansas has the second-highest tax rate among neighboring states. Brownback “predicted the lowered tax rates would spur economic growth, which then should be plowed back into more tax cuts,” the Journal-World reported. He told the paper that, at this point, he would not propose lowering state corporate income-tax rates.

Economic benchmarks don’t bode well for Obama

“Real income, unemployment, consumer confidence and the stock market all hint at an economy struggling to catch its breath after getting the wind pounded out of it four years ago,” Politico reported. “The ensuing crisis in the housing and financial markets helped usher Obama into the White House but left more than 13 million Americans searching for work.”  The potential election consequence, Political said, is that “Republicans have plenty of reasons to gloat,”  though recent economic upswings give Democrats some signs for hope in 2012.

Fleet-mileage change will have huge impact

Not only has President Obama largely avoided the global-warming debate during his presidency, he blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from setting new rules to cut smog levels. Meanwhile, global emissions of carbon dioxide increased 5.9 percent last year, the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, the New York Times reported. Still, columnist Thomas Friedman praised Obama for a little-noticed deal that could have a huge impact. All the top U.S.-based automakers agreed to improve the fuel efficiency of their fleets each year from 2017 until 2025, when the fleets will average 54.5 miles per gallon (twice the current average). “The new vehicles sold over the life of the program — including its first phase between 2012 and 2016 — are expected to save a total of 4 billion barrels of oil and prevent 2 billion metric tons of greenhouse-gas pollution,” Friedman wrote. “This is a big deal — a legacy deal for Obama that will make a significant, long-term contribution to America’s energy, environmental, health and national security agendas.”

Should teachers have enforceable dress code?

Given all the cutbacks and challenges that teachers face, it’s a bit petty to complain about how some teachers dress. But now that Wichita principals and other administrators have developed dress guidelines, it naturally prompts the question of whether there should be standards for teachers, too. Teacher contracts dictate that teachers “will project a positive professional image while dressing in an appropriate manner,” but it leaves it up to individual teachers to determine what that means. The vast majority of teachers dress appropriately. And some teachers need to dress more casually than others depending on their job duties, which could include kneeling on the floor with kindergartners or supervising recess. Still, some teachers clearly miss the mark and could use some accountability.

No point to House’s defense of farm dust

The Environmental Protection Agency has thoroughly debunked the notion that it’s going to crack down on farm dust. But that didn’t stop the U.S. House, including Kansas’ delegation, from passing the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011 last week. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, took credit for shepherding the bill through committee, saying in a statement: “I’m proud to say that today House Republicans provided a win for farmers in Kansas and across the nation — the EPA’s regulations on ‘farm dust’ are nothing now but dust in the wind.” Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, said: “It’s not just current regulations that present problems for our farmers and ranchers. It’s also the proposed or even just discussed regulations that have them concerned.” In any case, President Obama opposes the bill, which stands no chance of passing the Senate.

Good change on Go Wichita contract

It defies common sense that the Kansas Open Records Act doesn’t apply to an organization as reliant on public dollars as the Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau. In any case, the city was right to have second thoughts about initially burying its 2012 contract renewal with Go Wichita among the routine items on the consent agenda of today’s City Council meeting. Go Wichita plays an outstanding role in the community, and had a special economic impact this year when Wichita hosted the NCAA women’s basketball tournament and USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships. But the contract, which calls Go Wichita to receive nearly $2.2 million next year from the city’s 6 percent guest tax on hotel and motel rooms, merits a place on the council’s regular agenda.

Romney bet was big but not a big deal

It was a bit odd during Saturday’s GOP presidential debate when Mitt Romney bet Texas Gov. Rick Perry $10,000 to prove a point. Why $10,000? Still, it is hardly the big deal that other candidates and pundits are making it out to be. During the debate, Perry repeated a claim he has made several times, including in a TV ad. He said that Romney wrote in his book that the Massachusetts health care plan should be a model for the nation, and that Romney removed that from the book when it was reprinted in paperback. Romney said that wasn’t true and bet Perry to prove it. The size of the wager has since been spun as an example of how the wealthy Romney is out of touch with average Americans. Are the debates and campaigns really that shallow? The more important question ought to be: Who was correct? A Washington Post fact-checker said that “Perry is making a phony claim.”