Monthly Archives: February 2013

Will GOP stand ground on sequester?

Columnist Cal Thomas (in photo) urged GOP lawmakers not to back down on the sequester cuts, which are scheduled to start going into effect Friday. “Whatever the short-term political price, Republicans must stand for the Constitution, the country and the future,” he wrote. “Allowing the president to have his way again risks harming all three.”

Brownback’s low approval rating not surprising

A Public Policy Polling survey released this week showing that only 37 percent of Kansans approve of Gov. Sam Brownback’s job performance was not particularly surprising, as polls conducted last year by SurveyUSA had similar findings. The approval rating mirrored the public’s opinion of Brownback’s plan for phasing out state income taxes, as only 37 percent of those surveyed supported it while 48 percent opposed it. Though Brownback had an edge against various Democrats in hypothetical matchups, it was striking how well the Democrats did even though the public knows little about them. For example, Brownback led Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer by only 4 percentage points, even though 68 percent of those surveyed didn’t know enough about Brewer to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him.

Voters, poll workers deserve credit for primary

What a relief that Tuesday’s primary election in Sedgwick County escaped the inexcusable problems of last year’s primary and general elections. Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman even had full results available 90 minutes after the polls closed, a feat surely aided by the puny 4.69 percent turnout. The timely results were a vast improvement over Nov. 6, when it took nearly four hours to get any returns and more than six hours to get final totals. The 4,000 or so voters set up a worthy April 2 general election contest in District 4 between Joshua Blick and Jeff Blubaugh and overwhelmingly endorsed able incumbents Janet Miller in District 6 and James Clendenin in District 3 over weak challengers. The poll workers, volunteers and voters who participated deserve praise for doing their civic duty amid snowy conditions.

Roberts, Moran on losing side of Hagel filibuster, confirmation

Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran were among the 27 lawmakers who were part of a losing attempt Tuesday to filibuster the confirmation of Chuck Hagel (in photo) as defense secretary. The Senate went on to confirm Hagel (with Roberts and Moran voting “no” again). Roberts had said that he didn’t want to filibuster. “It is a choice that could lead to a lot more problems,” he told Politico. The senators also went against the advice of former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who endorsed Hagel last week and said his “wisdom and courage make him uniquely qualified to be secretary of defense and lead the men and women of our armed forces.”

Pompeo OK with sequestration

Though he would rather they be distributed differently, U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, is OK with the automatic spending cuts scheduled to go into effect Friday, he told The Eagle recently. He thinks the federal government, including the military, can withstand the cuts. In fact, he wishes that sequestration, which he called a “home run,” would mandate deeper cuts, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. “That’s why it’s only a home run and not a grand slam,” he said. Responding Tuesday to White House criticism of his comments, Pompeo 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.”

Follow legislative intent on problem gambling

When the 2007 Legislature made the controversial decision to allow state-owned destination casinos, it built in a social safeguard that even gambling opponents should have been able to support: a requirement that 2 percent of the gambling revenue from those casinos go to the Problem Gambling and Addictions Grant Fund. So it’s inexplicable that the state has allocated only 9 percent of that 2 percent to help problem gamblers so far, according to testimony heard recently by the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission, and that Gov. Sam Brownback’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal appears to entirely eliminate funds to treat problem gambling. It’s a further concern that $6.5 million of the $9 million generated for the fund so far went to Medicaid for services for other addictions. Legislative intent was clear, and a recent poll showed strong public support for using public funds to make problem-gambling treatment available and affordable. The Brownback administration needs to keep that promise.

GOP will get most blame on sequester

Though much of the public is still tuned out of the sequester debate, 49 percent said they would blame Republicans in Congress if the automatic spending cuts happen, while 31 percent would blame President Obama, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center and USA Today. Also, 49 percent said they would rather see the cuts delayed, while 40 percent said they would prefer having the cuts go into effect rather than delaying them again. Just 19 percent want a deal that includes no tax increases, as the GOP wants, while 76 percent want the deal to include both tax hikes and spending cuts, as Obama wants.

Local doctors backing Medicaid expansion

Officers of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County are hoping that Gov. Sam Brownback allows the federal expansion of Medicaid. Society president Bart Grelinger told The Eagle editorial board that the Medicaid program in Kansas is currently “one of the worst in the nation” in terms of eligibility criteria, and that “there is not really a downside” to the expansion. Donna Sweet, society president-elect, said that Medicaid should be expanded for compassion reasons, but that it also makes economic sense. A study released last week by the Kansas Hospital Association estimated that the expansion would inject more than $3 billion into the state’s economy, would create 4,000 jobs over the next seven years, and could save the state more money than it costs.

Brownback should follow Scott’s lead on Medicaid

There likely was no governor who opposed federal health care reform more than Florida Gov. Rick Scott (in photo). But when it came to deciding whether to allow a federal expansion of Medicaid, Scott put the interests of citizens before his own ideology and preferences – as Gov. Sam Brownback also should do. Scott said last week: “Quality health care services must be accessible and affordable for all – not just those in certain ZIP codes or tax brackets.… While the federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the cost of new people in Medicaid, I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care.”

Balanced-budget amendment still a bad idea

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., is backing a new effort to pass a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. “It is time to stop the reckless spending in Washington and restore some fiscal sanity to our country,” he said in a statement. But conservative commentator Ramesh Ponnuru contends that a balanced-budget amendment is a bad idea. “A strict balanced-budget rule would force spending cuts or tax increases at times of economic weakness,” he noted, which could make the economy worse. Another big concern is that the courts likely would be responsible for enforcing the amendment. Ponnuru wrote: “The result would be a major expansion of judicial power over American life, brought to us by the party that has rightly warned against the growth of that very power for decades.”

Obama still wrong on general-aviation tax break

It was frustrating to hear how White House press secretary Jay Carney views the aviation job losses that could come with President Obama’s proposed elimination of a tax break for corporate and private jet owners: “I would say that making choices about budgets and deficit reduction always involves difficult choices,” Carney told reporters include KAKE News anchor Susan Peters last week, also characterizing the break as among “narrow special interest loopholes.” The president didn’t help his message much in Wichita when he earlier told Peters himself: “The reason people buy corporate jets is because it’s extremely convenient and they can afford it. And they don’t need an extra tax break, especially at a time when we’re trying to reduce the deficit. Something’s got to give.” That “something” should not be more of the aviation-manufacturing workforce in Wichita. The 27-year-old tax break allows general-aviation aircraft to be depreciated over five years rather than seven. Getting rid of it would generate $300 million a year – not enough to make a different in the deficit but enough to deter jet shopping.

Legal immigration needs to be easier

U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (in photo), R-Wichita, identified one of the big problems that need to be fixed as part of federal immigration reform: The current legal immigration system is so backlogged and broken that it encourages illegal immigration. “Our immigration policy is completely backward,” Pompeo told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “Today, if you want to come here in a legal way, with proper paperwork, it is very difficult. If you want to come here unlawfully, it’s easier.”

Believe it or not, there is an election Tuesday

Though it hasn’t generated much attention, there is an election Tuesday. In Wichita, voters in the southeast, southwest and north-central areas of the city will choose which two candidates for City Council advance to the April 2 general election. Turnout likely will be low, so every vote could have a significant impact. And there are important issues in this election, including the role of government in economic development and the future of the city’s public bus system. For more information about the candidates, visit The Eagle’s online voter guide or The Eagle editorial board’s endorsements.

Pro-con: Should U.S. raise minimum wage?

Little evidence exists to suggest that modest increases in the minimum wage lead to job losses, so the battle ahead in Congress is really one between free-market orthodoxy and basic human decency. We would invest our money in decency. In his State of the Union address, President Obama called upon Congress to boost the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2015, up from the current $7.25. The wage would rise in steps and after hitting the maximum in two years would thereafter be indexed to inflation. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage in the late 1960s was about $10 per hour, and it was even higher in the 1980s. President Obama’s call to raise it to $9 is far from excessive. The state of Washington is already higher. Conservatives may argue that the market should set wages, but they argued the feds should let GM fail, too. Working people need a raise. Congress should give them one. – Battle Creek (Mich.) Enquirer

At a time when the U.S. economic recovery has slowed to a standstill, President Obama’s State of the Union speech seemed to come from an alternate universe as he prescribed more tax hikes and costly federal regulations. His call for a 24 percent increase in the minimum wage to $9 an hour would be especially damaging. Hiking the minimum wage discriminates against entry-level workers. The higher it goes, the minimum wage not only raises business costs and reduces the number of available jobs, but also biases the labor force toward workers who already have work experience – or just eliminates jobs altogether. You only need to go back to the last minimum -age hike to see its negative effects. In 2007, Congress passed an ill-timed minimum-wage bump – a two-year, 40 percent, phased-in increase from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour by 2009. The result was a plunge in working youths. To protect entry-level jobs and priceless working experience, Congress should hold off on any new wage increases. – Detroit News

MAPC made right decision on clinic property

The Metropolitan Area Planning Commission made the right decision Thursday in denying a request by Kansans for Life to change zoning to prevent South Wind Women’s Center from opening in the building that previously housed George Tiller’s abortion clinic (in photo). The property reportedly has been zoned for medical purposes since 1937, and that’s how it was advertised when South Wind purchased it. Though many citizens oppose abortion, it is a legal procedure. And it struck many other citizens as ironic and insincere for anti-abortion groups to argue that the zoning should be changed to protect the neighborhood from disturbances created by those same groups.

August is poor time to amend state constitution

Even those who think Kansas needs to alter its constitution to try to prevent courts from making decisions about school funding should see a glaring problem with the amendment approved Wednesday by the Senate: It would put the issue to voters at the August 2014 primary. It was wrong to hold a vote to rewrite the state constitution to bar same-sex marriage in April 2005, when only 35.5 percent of registered voters turned out. It would be just as wrong to try to rewrite the constitution in an August primary, especially one in which seats for only one chamber of the Legislature are on the ballot. Turnout was 23.2 percent statewide in August 2012 and 25.2 percent in August 2010, compared with 66.8 and 49.7 percent in the general elections of those years. As state Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, argued Wednesday in unsuccessfully trying to persuade senators to move the vote to November 2014, independent voters may not even realize they can vote in a primary on the issue. If the House agrees to put the amendment on the ballot, it at least should change the date.

Wichita area handled the snowstorm relatively well

Driving on snow-packed streets and highways Thursday was no one’s idea of fun, but the thunder that accompanied the storm won’t be soon forgotten and the sledding was great. All in all, the system for predicting and coping with more than a foot of snow worked as intended – meteorologists warned the public, crews treated and plowed the roadways, school districts and businesses closed, and many people stayed home and safe. Special thanks are due those who did the work that had to be done to clear streets, respond to emergencies, and tend to the sick and the frail elderly despite the storm.

Are zero-tolerance policies going too far?

The recent suspensions of young kids as a result of school districts’ zero-tolerance polices on weapons are renewing debate about whether these policies go too far. Among the examples cited in an Associated Press article was a kindergartner who was suspended after telling her friends she was going to shoot them with a Hello Kitty soap-bubble gun. While everyone agrees that schools need to be watchful, the mother of the bubble-gun girl complained that they are treating little kids like “mini-adults, making them grow up too fast, and robbing them of their imaginations.”

Will telecom bill haunt rural Kansas?

It was surprising that only one Kansas House member voted against a bill that would reduce required funding of the Kansas Universal Service Fund, which helps ensure affordable phone service throughout the state. Rep. Larry Hibbard, R-Toronto, expressed concern that it could result in higher phone rates for some rural areas. “This bill may come back to haunt rural Kansas,” he said. The bill is being pushed by AT&T and other telecommunications companies, and lawmakers seem eager to help. Rep. Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie, chairman of the House Utilities and Telecommunications Committee, described the measure as “an industry bill that they all worked very hard” to put together, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. A Republican bill brief said the bill “puts legislators in an easier position of not having to ‘choose between friends’” – the friends being the phone companies.

County right to push back on public-lobbying bill

Good for the majority of the Sedgwick County Commission for passing a resolution Wednesday stating the commission’s official opposition to Senate Bill 109, which would criminalize the direct or indirect use of tax dollars to lobby the Legislature. People around the state might have been confused about where Sedgwick County stood, given County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn’s (in photo) testimony in support of the bill in a Senate hearing last week. The bill risks muting the voices of cities, counties, school districts, law enforcement authorities and others around the state whose expertise is vital to make good law.

Hearing on accreditation was a waste of time

At least state Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, backed away Monday from his bill to prohibit health departments from becoming nationally accredited. But he wasted people’s valuable time by giving credence to the unfounded fears of Sedgwick County Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau that the federal government is trying to take over local health departments. As state Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, noted, the Legislature shouldn’t have been dragged into a Sedgwick County dispute. State and local health officials also seemed frustrated. “All of this took time and money that could have been spent in better ways,” said Dan Partridge, director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.

NBAF funding at risk because of sequester

The threat of automatic budget cuts on March 1 has caused the Department of Homeland Security to hold back $40 million for a power plant and $50 million for construction at the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them wait and see what happens,” said Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka. “If the sequester kicks in, they’re going to have to reprioritize.” Kansas may also have to increase its investment in the research facility beyond the $140 million that’s been pledged, but the congressional delegation remains optimistic that the facility will be completed. “Maybe Kansas has to put a little more money in that the original plan didn’t call for,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita. “It makes sense for America, not just Kansas. Ultimately, that will drive us to get NBAF constructed.”

Can Congress still solve big problems?

Though there have been some encouraging signals on immigration reform, the idea that the government can, will or even wants to come together to solve big issues is seeming like a total fallacy, Chris Cillizza wrote in the Washington Post. One reason is that the overwhelming majority of GOP House members come from heavily Republican districts and have a disincentive to compromise. “The only danger for most GOP members of the House is in a primary, not a general election,” Cillizza wrote. “And the best way to avoid a primary is to hold the ideological line on anything and everything.” Other factors that make a “grand bargain” unlikely are that polarization among the public is at an all-time high, according to polls, and Republicans lack a clear leader for negotiations.

Can governor’s numbers be trusted?

Credit Steve Anderson, Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director, for Monday’s apology for a whopper of a claim that state spending has dropped nearly $2 billion since 2010. A chart that Brownback has used in presentations around the state said that state spending had peaked at $16 billion under Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson in 2010 when it actually was $14.04 billion. Rather than representing the “first bending down of the cost curve in 40 years for the state,” as Brownback characterized it to the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce in December, state spending actually rose between 2010 and 2011 before dipping in 2012 to a level still above that when Parkinson left office. It’s hard to believe such a big, bogus number could masquerade as fact until The Eagle’s Dion Lefler challenged it, leading to Anderson’s acknowledgment that “we should have caught the incorrect information but we did not.” The Brownback administration’s numbers have come into question on other issues, too, including how only 54 percent of education funding is getting “into the classroom,” how merging the Kansas Turnpike Authority and the state Transportation Department would save $30 million over two years and how privatizing Medicaid will save $1 billion over five years. Of course, many also would say the governor’s calculation that deep income-tax cuts won’t wreck the state budget is a case of fuzzy math.

Gabel’s coupon gambit speaks for itself

It looks like Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett will have the official say in whether Craig Gabel (in photo) is breaking any law by putting Mike’s Steak House coupons on his palm card for Wichita City Council, as well as in a campaign flier in the Wichita Post newspaper. He owns both the restaurant and the newspaper. But Gabel’s latest gambit speaks for itself to District 4 voters. A candidate should run on his merits, not try to entice voters with a $5.99 chicken fry deal or half off any meal with the purchase of a drink.