Monthly Archives: January 2013

Be honest about effort to weaken unions

State lawmakers claim a bill preventing public union members from using payroll deductions to contribute to political action committees is about protecting union members from harassment. Please. Union members are adults and are perfectly capable of deciding on their own whether to use a payroll deduction. And if schoolteachers and others really are being pressured to use the deduction – a big “if” – then won’t they be pressured to write checks to the union PACs? This legislation is entirely about trying to weaken unions – which is why it is being pushed by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity. In a rare moment of honesty, the chamber’s lobbyist told a House panel that he needed the bill passed “so we can get rid of public-sector unions.” Lawmakers should at least be honest, too.

Public still supports current system of picking judges

When a poll was released earlier this month showing that 61 percent of Kansas voters opposed changing how state Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges are selected, some conservatives tried to discredit the results by saying that liberal billionaire George Soros was behind the poll. But a new survey sponsored by the Kansas Policy Institute and its conservative backers found similar results, with 54 percent of the public saying that it is in citizens’ best interest to have judges recommended by a nominating panel, a majority of whose members are attorneys. Even 50 percent of Republicans supported the current system. So what did the Kansas Senate do? It voted Wednesday to change the system that the public supports.

Prisons have become mental health centers

Since 2006, there has been a 126 percent increase in mentally ill prisoners in Kansas, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Now, nearly 2 in 5 Kansas adult inmates are mentally ill. After the Newtown, Conn., shooting, Gov. Sam Brownback proposed redirecting $5 million in funding to community mental health centers (whose grants had been cut sharply recent years) and $5 million to new regional recovery support centers.

65 percent threshold is arbitrary, unscientific

Gov. Sam Brownback should listen to the head of his school efficiency task force, who noted that the focus on getting 65 percent of school funding “into the classroom” isn’t very useful. “The 65 percent is really an arbitrary number, and there’s no science behind the fact that it either does or does not provide an optimal education for kids,” Ken Willard, a Kansas State Board of Education member from Hutchinson, told lawmakers this week. He also noted that the federal data that Brownback has used to complain about school spending doesn’t include costs that most people would consider instructional, such as counselors and librarians.

Brownback not satisfied with size of GOP majority

Republicans hold 92 of the 125 Kansas House seats and 32 of the 40 Senate seats, but Gov. Sam Brownback isn’t satisfied. He urged those attending the Kansas Republican Party convention last weekend in Hutchinson to compete harder in those districts now held by Democrats, the Hutchinson News reported. He said that Republicans needed to hold town hall meetings in those districts and build relationships. “You’re all the time out there and pushing,” Brownback said.

Truckers concerned about turnpike merger

The Kansas trucking industry is concerned about Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed merger of the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Kansas Turnpike Authority. Tom Whitaker, executive director of the Kansas Motor Carriers Association, wrote in a message to his membership that the change “would subject the turnpike to the bureaucracy of a state agency, as opposed to the business model used by KTA, and diverts highway user fees generated through tolls to the state general fund.” The trucking industry accounts for 39 percent of turnpike revenues. Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, also expressed caution. “We really need to be very careful with the changes that we make,” he said.

Happy birthday, Kansas

“Kansas as a paradise has her failings,” wrote Eagle founder Marshall Murdock on a windy day in April 1880, describing “dust, grit and sand everywhere in your victuals, up your nose, down your back, between your toes.” But on this Kansas Day, we recall with pride that Kansas entered the Union as a free state on Jan. 29, 1861, and we stand back in admiration and awe not only of Kansas’ rich heritage but also its impressive present and promising future. Happy birthday, Kansas.

Kansas’ self-inflicted shortfall a cautionary tale for Oklahoma

Last year Kansas and Oklahoma were in a race to see which state could cut its income taxes fastest and deepest. Oklahoma lost, as Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposal fell short in the Legislature. But did Kansas and Gov. Sam Brownback win? An editorial in the Oklahoman newspaper in Oklahoma City noted that Brownback now must offset a revenue shortfall: “Kansas faces a revenue decline of $700 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1, compared with the current year. On the other hand, Kansans will pay less in income taxes. The state can boast that it taxes its highest earners at a lower rate than most states in the region, including Oklahoma. This will add fuel to the fire that Oklahoma must protect its flanks, sandwiched as it is between a state with no income tax (Texas) and another with a lower top rate. Nevertheless, what’s happening in Kansas is a cautionary tale.”

Is Huelskamp a maverick or irrelevant?

U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, has cast himself as a maverick who is representing the wishes of his district, even if it cost him spots on the House agriculture and budget committees. “I don’t regret speaking for what I believe and what I’ve heard in 140 town halls in the last two years,” he said at a recent meeting in Cottonwood Falls. But former Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal, who is now CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, said that “in a political, democratic process, at the end of the day, something has to get accomplished. You can be irrelevant if you say there’s not set of circumstances where you’ll compromise.” But the National Journal’s Ben Terris noted in an article headlined “There May Be No Way to Silence Republican Outcast Tim Huelskamp” that it only takes 17 defecting Republicans in the House to derail a bill. “The fact is, although Huelskamp may speak with (and sometimes for) only a small group of Republicans, at this point, that may be all it takes to throw a wrench in the gears,” Terris wrote. “Already, 12 people decided not to vote for Boehner as speaker. Huelskamp, of course, was one of them.” Huelskamp told Terris: “I think it was the least I could do to the speaker to return the favor. We wanted to send a message that we are frustrated, all across the conference.”

From Wichita Falls to Wichita

Congratulations to Tim Chase on his new job as president of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. Chase comes to Wichita after 12 years as president of the Wichita Falls (Texas) Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and with an impressive range of experience in economic development. It’s been nearly two years since the last permanent GWEDC president left – too long, especially amid such a deep downturn. Expectations are high for Chase’s ability to coordinate our community’s efforts to attract and retain businesses and to market itself not only as a hub for aviation manufacturing, research and training but as a fertile place for high-tech innovation and entrepreneurship.

Which direction will state go on ethics?

Gov. Sam Brownback wants to cut funding to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission by 9.3 percent, and some lawmakers want to curb the commission’s authority. But at least one state lawmaker wants to strengthen ethics rules and enforcement. Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, has proposed a reform package that includes term limits (two terms for Kansas Senate and four terms for Kansas House), restrictions on nepotism and lobbying (lawmakers must wait a minimum of two years after leaving the Legislature before doing lobbying work), and additional open-government laws and restrictions (such as limiting how much government bodies can charge to fulfill open-records requests). “The people of Kansas, I am confident, support every provision in this legislation,” LaTurner told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “Every bit of it. It’s going to be a question of if the legislators in Topeka have the courage to regulate themselves.”

Don’t rob early childhood grants to pay for reading initiative

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, said that it “defies logic” for Gov. Sam Brownback to want cut $9.2 million from early childhood block grants to help pay for his new “Reads to Succeed” initiative. “We support investments in literacy,” she told the Lawrence Journal-World, “but it doesn’t make sense at the expense of early intervention.” The roots of reading begin in early childhood, and if children don’t start school ready to learn, it is difficult for them to catch up.

Pass tax-credit bill for tornado victims

Good for Reps. Brandon Whipple, D-Wichita, and Joe Edwards, R-Haysville, for getting a fast start on a bill to abate property taxes on homes destroyed in natural disasters. The problem, brought to light by The Eagle’s Dion Lefler last month, is that current law required the owners of the 144 houses and mobile homes lost in April’s tornado to pay a full year of property taxes. That’s unfair and even offensive, making the proposed legislative remedy a no-brainer that should cut across lines of party and geography. It would be better if the measure spared victims from even getting a tax bill, rather than just refunding their tax payments – and better yet if it were retroactive, to help out the 2012 tornado victims. But the bill co-authored by legislative newcomers Whipple and Edwards is a good move that deserves swift passage and the governor’s signature.

So they said

– “I can’t fix everything. I’m not trying to fix everything either.” – Gov. Sam Brownback (in photo), during a Friday meeting with The Eagle editorial board
– “Kansas is the starter gun for tax competition. Brownback fired off the shot that said ‘Go.’” – anti-tax guru Grover Norquist, in a Bloomberg story headlined “Bleeding Kansas Shows Peril of GOP Bid to End Income Tax”
– “In the governor’s mind, if you take two and subtract one you come up with three. It just doesn’t add up.” – Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, to Bloomberg
– “I do think it’s hard to be anywhere near Kansas right now.” – Amy Blouin, executive director of the Missouri Budget Project, to Bloomberg
– “It kind of eliminates a large group of Kansans out of that pursuit of happiness.” – Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, quoted in the New York Times about the governor’s tax-cutting experiment

Pro-con on allowing women in combat

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced this week that all military combat jobs will be open to women, who in fact already have served in ground combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Restrictions have gradually been eased over time, but full equality in all service branches now has the unanimous support of the Joint Chiefs, and that is overdue. Being denied some combat assignments and other front-line duties limits the rank to which servicewomen can aspire, which in turn limits the talent pool the military can draw from. Removing gender discrimination simply means equal opportunity. If individuals can’t qualify for certain kinds of duty because of physical limitations or other factors, they won’t get the job, whether men or women. But some and perhaps many women will qualify for combat roles now off-limits, and America’s military will be stronger for it. – San Jose Mercury News

Women have been in combat since the United States began combat operations in Afghanistan in 2001. They have fought and served with distinction. However, placing women in infantry and other front-line units is a different issue, and it has nothing to do with their courage or capabilities. The people making this decision are doing so as part of another social experiment. Infantry or Special Forces units have the mission of closing with and destroying the enemy, sometimes in close hand-to-hand combat. They are often in sustained operations for extended periods, during which they have no base of operations nor facilities. Their living conditions are primal in many situations with no privacy for personal hygiene or normal functions. This decision to integrate the genders in these units places additional and unnecessary burdens on leaders at all levels. – Jerry Boykin, Family Research Council

Does GOP have the guts, unity to fight Obama?

“It became obvious this week that the Republican Party top to bottom has to start taking Barack Obama seriously,” Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “All the famous criticisms of him are true: He has no talent for or interest in sustained, good-faith negotiations, he has no real sense of alarm about the great issue of the day, America’s debt. He’s a chill presence in a warm-blooded profession. But he means business. He means to change America in fundamental ways and along the lines of justice as he sees it The proper response to such a man is not – was not – that he’s a Muslim, he’s a Kenyan, he’s working out his feelings about colonialism. Those charges were meant to marginalize him, but they didn’t hurt him They damaged Republicans, who came to see him as easy to defeat…. It will take guts and unity to fight him. Can the GOP, just in Washington, for now, develop those things?”

Public, including most Republicans, wants immigration reform

President Obama called for immigration reform in his inaugural address Monday, saying the nation needs “a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity.” The public agrees. More than 6 in 10 Americans favor allowing illegal immigrants to eventually become U.S. citizens, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. Among Republicans, 53 percent favor a pathway to citizenship. That’s up 22 percent from 2010.

Nation watching Kansas’ tax-cutting experiment

As interesting as Thursday’s New York Times article on Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax-cutting, pro-growth agenda were the online reader comments, including many responding to the statement by Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, that “if you look at the demographics of my voter base, a lot moved to Florida and Nevada for lower taxes. I’d like to see them come back.”
A sample of Times readers’ responses:
– “Perhaps they’re leaving because staying means they have to live in Kansas. Anything special about that place? Weather, natural beauty, a welcoming, open, non-dogmatic populace? Nope.”
– “The entire state is taking on the feel of a Glen Campbell song.”
– “Hurrah!! Lower taxes, more efficient government. Thankfully, someone is trying to provide some relief to taxpayers.”
– “Kansas is just about as pure a test of the conservative ideology as we are going to get, so let’s just see what happens.”
– “I’m guessing Kansas basketball won’t suffer. Students can’t read or write, poor farmers can’t get health care, but God help us if we’re not in the top 10.”

Transportation plan still a piggy bank for state

When former Kansas Transportation Secretary Deb Miller resigned a little more than a year ago, she warned that the state needed to stop raiding the transportation plan to pay its bills. Gov. Sam Brownback agreed, saying that the state needed to seek alternatives to another massive sweep of KDOT. But Brownback’s new budget plan would use $96.6 million in highway funds to pay for school district transportation costs in both of the next two fiscal years. It also would transfer $10 million to pay for special education aid next fiscal year and $43 million the following year. Other transfers include $9.7 million for mental health services, $5 million for Wichita’s airfare subsidy, and $3.5 million for a new crime laboratory. All total, Brownback’s budget would transfer $265 million next fiscal year from the highway fund and $295 million the following year.

Poll: Kansans strongly favor medicinal marijuana

Over the past few years, legislative leaders have been indifferent to bills that would have Kansas join the District of Columbia and 18 states in allowing medicinal use of marijuana – including one proposed this session by Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City. But their constituents may feel otherwise, judging from a SurveyUSA poll sponsored this month by KWCH, Channel 12. Seventy percent of those Kansans polled said the state should legalize medicinal marijuana, with 28 percent against. Respondents said doctors should be able to prescribe it to any patient (50 percent) or only to the terminally ill (28 percent) or those with a serious illness (19 percent). But 58 percent said Kansas shouldn’t join Colorado and Washington state in legalizing recreational pot use. Regarding the Legislature’s reluctance to even consider medicinal marijuana, Haley said: “I don’t understand the opposition. Kansas is a conservative state, but this is not a conservative or liberal issue.”

Save money by meeting less

Good for leaders at the Statehouse and the Sedgwick County commissioners for trying to reduce costs by trimming the time spent in session. Legislative leaders of both parties have endorsed plans to shave 10 days off the usual 90-day session, which would mean not pushing the usual big decisions to the wrap-up session and risking overtime. And next week the Sedgwick County Commission begins its schedule of one fewer meeting a month, which will save about $10,000 a year in TV broadcasting costs as it frees up staff time. Both changes will require better planning and efficiency, to ensure they don’t lead to rushed and bad decisions or missed deadlines. But taxpayers can applaud the efforts to save money by meeting less.

Majority backs Roe decision, but opponents most motivated

Seventy percent of Americans want the Roe v. Wade ruling upholding abortion rights to stay, while 24 percent would like it overturned, according to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that came out on the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision. So why is abortion still such a significant issue in politics? One reason is that 74 percent of those who support overturning Roe consider abortion a “crucial issue” or “one of many crucial issues,” according to a Pew poll, while only 31 percent of Roe supporters consider abortion a crucial issue.

Broad support for universal background checks on guns

It seems unlikely that President Obama’s proposed ban on assault weapons will clear Congress. But there is broad support among the public for his call for expanded background checks on gun purchases, according to a CBS/New York Times poll. Overall, 92 percent of Americans support universal background checks. That includes 89 percent of Republicans and 85 percent of those living in households with a National Rifle Association member.

Pompeo sees dollars signs in energy exports

In a commentary in Politico, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, warns against letting politicians and bureaucrats derail the “staggeringly enormous opportunity for wealth creation” offered by hydrocarbon production and pushes back against business and environmental interests that would stall expansion of U.S. energy exports. “Federal policy should not block those who are prepared to risk their own wealth to create an enormous energy export industry here in America,” Pompeo. “The argument here is more than ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’ – it is ‘produce wealth, produce wealth, produce wealth’ – and all the jobs that come with it.”

Obama begins new term

President Obama stuck mostly to broad themes in his inauguration address today, calling on Americans to work together as one nation and one people to fulfill the promises of the Declaration of Independence. But he also listed several policy goals, including climate change, gay rights and immigration reform. Our editorial Sunday said that the president should make repairing the nation’s economy and the government’s finances his highest priority.