Monthly Archives: May 2013

Send prayers, help to Oklahoma

The images and accounts of the tornado Monday in Moore, Okla., are terrible. Those wishing to donate money to the relief and rescue efforts can do so online at www.salvationarmyusa.org or by calling 800-725-2769. Checks can be sent to Oklahoma Tornado Relief, Salvation Army, P.O. Box 12600, Oklahoma City, OK 73157.

Will lawmakers stick by no-tax pledge?

A pledge by some state lawmakers to never raise taxes is a factor in finalizing the state budget, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Fifteen House members (half of whom are from the Wichita area) signed a no-tax pledge administered by Americans for Prosperity, and AFP considers the proposed extension of the statewide sales tax to be a tax increase. However, eight state senators who signed the AFP pledge voted for the sales-tax extension, including Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.

Oil sands also create dirty waste product

One environmental concern about piping Canada’s oil sands to U.S. refineries is all the petroleum coke that will be left over from the refining process. The Environmental Protection Agency no longer allows new licensing permits for burning the high-sulfur, high-carbon waste product, the New York Times reported. As a result, most petroleum coke is sold to Mexico and China, which don’t have as many pollution rules. Companies associated with Koch Industries and Bill Koch are leading exporters of the product. Another concern is where to store the petroleum coke before it is exported. The Times reported on a three-story pile of petroleum coke that covers an entire city block in Windsor, Ontario, across the river from Detroit.

Conservatives should champion Common Core

Claims by some conservative state and federal lawmakers that the Common Core education standards are being imposed by the federal government “do not stand up to close scrutiny,” Sol Stern and Joel Klein wrote in a Wall Street Journal commentary. “The Common Core standards were not written by the federal government, but by a committee selected by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.” What’s more, they wrote, “all Americans, including conservatives, should applaud these standards, which celebrate the country’s foundational documents and enable students to share the heritage of Americans.” Attempts in the Kansas Legislature to block Common Core couldn’t make it out of the House and Senate education committees this session, but some GOP lawmakers are trying to tie it to end-of-session budget negotiations. “There is a general resistance to the federal government imposing a curriculum on our Kansas schools,” said Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover. That would be understandable if it were happening, but it’s not.

Moran endorses former Kansan for key court

Good for Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., for helping break the long political stalemate over the four vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by announcing his support Wednesday for President Obama’s nomination of Sri Srinivasan (in photo), who grew up in Lawrence and currently is principal deputy solicitor general. “I have found Sri to be a highly qualified candidate with a distinguished career in the private sector and in the Departments of Justice of the Bush and Obama administrations,” Moran said in a statement. “Srinivasan is one of Kansas’ most accomplished legal minds and among the nation’s leading appellate lawyers.” Srinivasan won unanimous approval Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee; his nomination now goes to the full Senate.

How Wagle’s tune has changed on sales taxes

“To pass a tax increase at a time like this would be far worse on the people and far worse on the economic recovery than taking the needed cuts.” – Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, in early 2010, about a proposal to avert damaging state budget cuts by raising the statewide sales tax to 6.3 percent for three years

“Let’s just leave Kansas. Let’s forget about buying food in Kansas.” – Wagle again in May 2010, as the Senate passed the sales-tax hike

“Sales tax has nothing to do with economic growth. It doesn’t really matter what your sales-tax rate is.” – Wagle, now Senate president and an advocate for keeping the sales-tax rate where it is after July 1 to pay for income-tax cuts, speaking last week to GOP Senate and House members

Kansas led nation in growth in gambling revenue

Casino gaming revenue grew faster in Kansas last year than in any other state in the nation, according to a report by the American Gaming Association. Kansas gambling revenue in 2012 was $341 million, a whopping 603.7 percent increase from $48 million in 2011. The big reason for the spike was the opening of the Kansas Star Casino near Mulvane. The casino is still pulling in money, earning $17.2 million in gambling revenue in April (though that’s down from the record $19 million it earned in March).

Plan now to avoid more fish kills, fines

Remember the 850 dead fish. If that falls short as a rallying cry for upgrading Wichita’s sewer and water infrastructure, though, city leaders need only recall the sting of the $243,195 state fine for the 2012 sewage release that killed those fish in the Arkansas River. And the city got off easy this time, because KDHE let what would have been another $455,000 fine be spent instead on a citywide study of deferred sewer maintenance. The $11 million the city has banked for sewer repairs this year and next is great as far as it goes. But as Mayor Carl Brewer warned in his State of the City address this year, the city will need $2.1 billion over the next 30 years to maintain or replace the majority of its water, sewer and storm-drainage systems. Brewer and the rest of the City Council need to find the money and political will soon to tackle this long-term challenge, so more fish kills and fines can be avoided.

Kansas Chamber video showcases close political ties

A promotional video for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce includes endorsements by top political leaders in the state. “I don’t know where we would be without the chamber,” Gov. Sam Brownback (in photo) says in the video. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, notes that the chamber “was involved in the elections for both House and Senate members” and that it “helped change the environment in the Capitol.” The chamber’s political action committee spent more than $1 million during the 2012 legislative election, much of it directed at defeating moderate Republicans. One of those purged lawmakers, former Sen. Ruth Teichman of Stafford, wondered if the chamber is now trying to convince Kansas that “getting rid of us” was a good thing, the Hutchinson News reported. Also of note in the video is Neeli Bendapudi, the dean of the University of Kansas School of Business. She says that “the Kansas Chamber and the University of Kansas are united for business.” When contacted by the Hutchinson News, Bendapudi said she did not intend to speak for the entire university. “I honestly did not think it through,” she said.

Is GOP overreaching on scandals?

“It has been only a few days since two administration scandals – the IRS harassment of conservative groups and the Justice Department’s seizure of Associated Press phone records – dropped into the Republicans’ lap,” Dana Milbank wrote in the Washington Post. “But instead of turning public outrage to their advantage, Republicans have already begun overreaching, turning legitimate areas of inquiry into just some more partisan food fights.” Among several examples of overreach Milbank cited was Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., saying it is “more than reasonable” to ask whether the Obama administration will deny health care to people “based upon a person’s political beliefs or their religiously held beliefs.”

Don’t reverse course at KU medical school

Good for the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and city and county leaders for writing University of Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little to express their concerns over possible cuts to the KU School of Medicine in Wichita. Gray-Little has said that if the state cuts more funding for university programs, the Wichita medical school likely would be reduced from a four-year program to a two-year program. As the local leaders noted, the Wichita community – particularly area doctors – donated money and helped lead the demanding accreditation process of expanding the medical school to a four-year program. KU shouldn’t abandon all that work. Also, the expanded program addresses a pressing state need for more physicians, particularly in rural Kansas. But it must also be noted that KU wouldn’t be faced with these possible cuts if Gov. Sam Brownback hadn’t signed last year’s massive tax cuts – reductions that the local chamber championed.

New judicial-reform bills are petty, punitive

New bills aimed at changing (and punishing) the Kansas courts are another example of why the legislative and judicial branches should be kept separate. Apparently angered that the Kansas Bar Association doesn’t support a GOP plan to alter how Kansas Supreme Court justices are selected, Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, hastily introduced a constitutional amendment to allow the governor to make lifetime appointments to the state Supreme Court, subject to Senate approval. But in a seemingly contradictory move, he also introduced bills that would reduce the mandatory retirement age for appellate judges to 65 and split the Court of Appeals into criminal and civil divisions, with the criminal division having final say on all criminal cases. These bills are petty attempts to weaken the Supreme Court and purge justices. Kinzer said he doubted that his bills would get a vote before the session ends. They certainly don’t deserve serious consideration.

Keep state budget negotiations out of backrooms

One way to reduce “he said, she said” disagreements at the Statehouse – such as the dispute about whether House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, referred to Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, as childish and egotistical – is to not have so many closed meetings. Merrick’s disputed comments were made during a closed meeting with House Republican freshmen. Of more concern was that until Wednesday, budget and tax negotiations had been occurring in closed meetings between Merrick, Wagle and Gov. Sam Brownback, rather than in open conference committee meetings. Such backroom dealings reduce the public’s faith in the legislative process – and suggest that state leaders also don’t have much faith in lawmakers or the process.

Welcome to Wichita

Some top U.S., Mexican and Canadian trade officials are in Wichita for the 37th-annual World Trade Week. Thursday’s conference, organized by the World Trade Council of Wichita, focuses on the North American Free Trade Agreement, the largest free-trade agreement in the world. Mexico and Canada are also the top two export markets for Kansas. Panel discussions include legal and trade regulations, tax policies, transportation and trade strategies. The conference is a good opportunity to network with trade officials and companies.

Some legislative issues are best left undone

The state budget and tax policy are the two big issues that still must be resolved in Topeka. Our Wednesday editorial also lists some other issues that are best left undone:
• The House should resist a revised constitutional amendment still aimed at politicizing appointments to the state Supreme Court. Kansas’ appellate judges should be chosen because they know and will follow the law, not because of their political connections and beliefs.
• Legislators should not revive efforts to override the Kansas State Board of Education on the multistate Common Core standards for English and math, which the state has been working toward implementing for years. The costs of shelving them and starting over would be too high. And much of the growing paranoia about the Common Core standards is baseless.
• Lawmakers should not enable Secretary of State Kris Kobach to prosecute voter fraud or anything else. Kansas already has county attorneys and an attorney general to handle such prosecutions. And if there is one thing Kobach does not need, it’s more power.

Edwards’ mugging case even more bizarre

The bizarre case of the reported mugging of Rep. Joe Edwards, R-Haysville, has gotten even more bizarre. In February, Edwards said that someone attacked him from behind as he entered his Topeka hotel room, knocked him unconscious and robbed him of about $250. But security cameras at the hotel didn’t show any attack. Edwards told the Topeka Capital-Journal that police investigators delved into the possibility he fabricated all or parts of the incident, a suspicion apparently fueled by the possibility that Edwards might have been involved in two prostitution cases in Wichita in 1997. The Eagle reported in March and August 1997 that charges were filed against a George F. Edwards II with the birthdate of Sept. 16, 1954. The lawmaker has the same name and birth date. Edwards told the Capital-Journal that he has no criminal record and no knowledge of those cases, and that it must have been a mix-up with another person with the same name. “That ain’t me,” he said. Officials with the Wichita Municipal Court and the Wichita Police Department were unable to locate records on the cases, which could mean that the records were expunged.

No justification for scope, secrecy of AP phone probe

The U.S. Justice Department badly abused its authority last year when it secretly obtained two months’ worth of telephone records of journalists working for the Associated Press. The records were apparently part of an investigation into the leak of classified information, but the number of people and records targeted – which included the personal phone records of some AP employees – is unprecedented in recent years. “There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of the Associated Press and its reporters,” AP president and CEO Gary Pruitt wrote in a letter this week to Attorney General Eric Holder (in photo). As Pruitt noted, the records could “disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”

Kansas gaining jobs from Obamacare

Despite its continued resistance to anything associated with Obamacare, Kansas is set to benefit from it. Up to 9,000 jobs are expected to be created at Medicare call centers in six states, including one in Lawrence. The call centers will answer inquiries related to the federally run insurance marketplaces. Kansas will get an even bigger economic boost if it allows the federal expansion of Medicaid. A study by the Kansas Hospital Association concluded that the expansion would inject more than $3 billion into the state’s economy and create 4,000 jobs over the next seven years.

Lawmakers finally brought boat taxes in line

However the sales-tax debate turns out, state lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback can say they lowered one tax by a whopping 30 percent this year – the property tax on boats and other watercraft. That tax had been so high in Kansas that many residents unlawfully registered and kept their boats in neighboring states. Voters finally passed a constitutional amendment last November authorizing lawmakers to classify and tax watercraft on a different basis from other personal property, and Brownback signed the resulting measure April 16 as part of a larger tax-related bill. Now, boats will be taxed at 11.5 percent of appraised value next year and 5 percent as of 2015. The new tax rate should benefit Kansas boat owners and dealers as well as the state’s lakes, parks and budget.

Obama joins criticism of IRS

President Obama joined the criticism of IRS officials who targeted tea party groups for special scrutiny, saying it was “outrageous” and “contrary to our traditions and people have to be held accountable.” Obama added: “I have got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it, and we’ve got to find out what happened with it.” An inspector general’s report on the matter has yet to be released.

Kansas among deadliest states for workers

A new report from the AFL-CIO ranks Kansas as the 10th deadliest state for workers in 2011. Kansas had 78 workplace deaths in 2011 (7 fewer than in 2010). That’s a rate of 5.9 fatalities per 100,000 workers, compared with the nationwide rate of 3.5. Kansas also had 34,400 injuries or incidents of job-related illness. The study blames the poor record in part on a lack of safety regulations and inspectors. It said that Kansas had only 14 federal job safety inspectors and no state inspectors, and that those federal inspectors inspected only 786 of the state’s 87,223 work establishments in fiscal year 2012. But job accidents are also associated with certain types of work. States with significant mining, oil and gas extraction and agriculture sectors have higher job-fatality rates.

How to get re-elected

Freshman Kansas House Republicans got advice last week on how to get re-elected, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg, told them to get busy raising money, because it will discourage potential challengers (and discourage lobbyists from giving money to challengers). Karl Hansen of the direct mail firm Singularis Group, which produced many campaign hit pieces last election, encouraged lawmakers to take advantage of their taxpayer-paid franking privileges and to host telephone town hall meetings. “It essentially works like talk radio. You’re the Rush Limbaugh,” he said. Gov. Sam Brownback’s former chief of staff David Kensinger said the lawmakers would benefit because Brownback and Sen Pat Roberts, R-Kan., will also be on the ballot in 2014. “We’re interested in helping you succeed,” he said. Whatever happened to getting re-elected because you did a good job?

Correction cuts have compromised public safety

A new risk-assessment tool may help Sedgwick County judges better determine whether an offender is likely to succeed at a community correction facility or should be sentenced to prison. But another key to reducing Sedgwick County’s probation-failure rate, which is significantly higher than the state average, is to make sure community correction programs are adequately funded. Pound-foolish budget cuts have reduced by half the number of beds at the county’s adult residential center, which means more higher-risk offenders are living in the community with less structure and supervision. That’s a recipe for recidivism. Gov. Sam Brownback recently signed a bill aimed at reducing the need for prison beds, which is projected to save the state $53million in the next five years. About $5million of those savings are supposed to be reinvested in community-based programs. Those programs need better support. As Mark Masterson, director of the county’s department of corrections, acknowledged: “To say that services have not been compromised – the truth is they have.”

Update regulations, revitalize general aviation

Good for Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, for trying to lower costs and increase innovation in the general aviation industry. Pompeo and four other lawmakers have introduced the Light Aircraft Revitalization Act, which would implement regulatory changes recommended by a Federal Aviation Administration committee of aviation authorities and industry representatives. Congress needs to review these recommendations to make sure they wouldn’t compromise safety. But Pompeo contends that the slow and burdensome certification process keeps products out of the market that could actually improve safety.

Kochs could bring more balance to newspapers

“Mainstream media are alarmed by reports that billionaires Charles and David Koch are considering the purchase of Tribune Company’s eight daily newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times,” columnist Cal Thomas wrote. Reportedly, about half of the L.A. Times staff said they would quit if the Kochs bought the paper. “That should make things easier for the Kochs,” Thomas wrote. “They can start by replacing liberal quitters and others whose ideology has turned off conservative readers. They could hire reporters and editors who will try to win back readers and advertisers by providing the type of ideologically balanced coverage they seek.”