Monthly Archives: March 2014

Rhoades has had a rough couple of weeks

candidateIt’s been a difficult past two weeks for Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton. First, provisions he had added to a school-finance bill that he introduced were publicly rejected and disowned by House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell. Last week, Rhoades insisted that those provisions were still on the table. Then he got angry on the House floor after other lawmakers groaned loudly when he claimed that the state’s renewable portfolio standard would cause electric rates to increase 40 percent. On Monday he resigned as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and was replaced on the committee.

Open thread (March 31)

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Kansas a bad tax-cut model

taxcutsA new study by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C., warns other states not to follow Kansas’ tax-cut model. “As other states recover from the recent recession and turn toward the future, Kansas’ huge tax cuts have left that state’s schools and other public services stuck in the recession, and declining further – a serious threat to the state’s long-term economic vitality,” the report said. “Meanwhile, promises of immediate economic improvement have utterly failed to materialize.” It noted that job growth in Kansas is lagging the national average and that “business growth has been unimpressive.”

Urgency appropriate on school fixes

Just before deadline - time, stress or rush concept.Multiple bills now have been offered to answer the Kansas Supreme Court’s March 7 order to resolve inequities in school funding by July 1, but Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, sounded like he didn’t appreciate being rushed last week. “The (Supreme) Court had years, and even seven months for final deliberation (on the school-finance lawsuit), and now we’re being asked to conclude something in a matter of days,” Masterson said, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. But school districts would suggest that some urgency is overdue. After all, it’s been five years since the Legislature began cutting K-12 schools after several years of court-ordered steep increases, and it’s been four years since Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, told Wichita superintendent John Allison: “The common goal is restoring that money and we will restore that money. It’s just going to take time.”

Open thread (March 30)

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Comparatively low unemployment rate normal for Kansas

jobhuntKansas’ unemployment rate in February was 4.9 percent, a 0.1 point increase from January. Kansas was one of only 10 states in which the unemployment rate increased last month. It decreased in 29 states and nationally. Kansas now is tied for having the 12th-lowest unemployment rate, down from the 10th lowest the previous month. A commercial praising Gov. Sam Brownback’s accomplishments highlights the 10th-place ranking. However, Kansas has long had a low unemployment rate compared with other states. In January 2011, the month Brownback took office, Kansas had the 12th-lowest unemployment rate. The year before, in January 2010, it was the fourth lowest.

ACA saving seniors on prescription drugs

drugsSince enactment of the Affordable Care Act four years ago, Kansas seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare have saved nearly $94 million on prescription drugs, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Closing the “doughnut hole” in Medicare Part D has saved about 40,500 Kansans nearly $32.5 million, for an average savings of $800. Nationally, ACA has saved seniors $9.9 billion on prescription drugs, according to HHS.

So they said

huelskamp“I also hope we can agree that after the multiple disappointments in St. Louis last weekend, we are both only too happy to move beyond this NCAA basketball season.” – Rep. Tim Huelskamp (photo), R-Fowler, after Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson closed his inquiry into the Huelskamp campaign’s NCAA ticket lottery

“Maybe it’s time for a national conversation about what a ‘deadline’ means. #ACA #Obamacare” – Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, on Twitter

“The Baghdad Bob of health insurance” – headline on a Politico magazine article by Rich Lowry concluding, “All we know for sure is that whatever Kathleen Sebelius says today may not be operative tomorrow.”

“Things don’t go better with Koch!” – Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, tweeting about a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities study slamming Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts

Open thread (March 29)

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Lawmakers like part of school study that called for cut

budgetcutKansas House and Senate GOP school-finance plans propose reducing state transportation funding to school districts. The change, which would cost USD 259 more than $1.2 million, is based on a 2006 Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit study that found a “mathematical error” in the formula for calculating transportation funding. Jeff Zehnder, communications director at the Seaman school district in Topeka, noted the contradiction of lawmakers latching onto this cut while still ignoring the primary finding of that study – that schools are significantly underfunded. “Legislators have said for years that their own studies were wrong when results showed schools received less than it takes to educate a child,” Zehnder told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “How can it now be that an exhaustive study calling for an overall increase in funding for kids is still wrong, but the one line item in that study calling for a small cut is correct?”

School-funding plans could cost Wichita

schoolbusNot only might the Wichita school district receive little budgetary help if the state equalizes school funding, proposals in the Kansas House and Senate to help pay for that equalization by reducing transportation aid would cost USD 259 more than $1.2 million. Because local option budgets are capped, Wichita won’t be able to keep any of the additional $11.9 million it would receive if the state equalized supplemental school aid, as ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court. Unless the rules are changed – a GOP Senate plan proposes raising the cap, subject to local voters’ approval – USD 259 would have to reduce its local property taxes by $11.9 million to offset the state money. All total, of the $134 million in state aid to schools in the Senate plan, about $56 million of it would be paid for by cuts to current funding.

Open thread (March 28)

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Equitably funding schools is such a chore

school-fundingWho knew that equitably funding public education was so distasteful to some lawmakers? House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said it would be a “real chore” to get a majority of Republicans to agree to spend tens of millions more in new money on schools. Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said he might need to link more funding to other reforms, such as changing teacher-licensing requirements, in order to get support from some conservatives. “It’s kind of like value shopping,” he said. “If I’m going to spend this much money, I want to know what I’m going to get for my dollars.”

Adding photo to food-stamp card may be impractical

ODonnellA bill drafted by state Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, that would require the photograph of a public-assistance recipient to be placed on food-stamp cards has run into practical objections. O’Donnell proposed adding photos to help prevent cards from being stolen or sold illegally, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. But the Kansas Department for Children and Families said that putting a photo on the card could prevent children from using a parent’s card to buy groceries. Also, the cost of adding the photo would be about $850,000, according to DCF.

Open thread (March 27)

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Brownback calling on ‘freedom fighters’ in Wichita

bbackwinGov. Sam Brownback is headlining an “Awakening Freedom Tour” event Saturday at Central Christian Church, 2900 N. Rock. Brownback will talk about the spiritual history of Kansas and about being a family-friendly state. Brownback also spoke last month at a tour event in Lenexa. The tour focuses on moral decline in the United States and the “battle to remove God from the public dialogue.” Organizer Donna Lippoldt of Wichita said that “we need to get some freedom fighters up and going to take this country back.” Take the country back from whom?

How can renewable-energy supporters compete with Kochs?

turbinewindmillSenate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, argued Tuesday that a bill blocking another gambling vote in Sedgwick County for 18 years was needed because opponents of expanded gaming have difficulty competing with the resources of casino owner Phil Ruffin. “He spends a lot of money on influencing legislators,” Wagle said. But just a few hours later, the Senate approved a bill revoking the state’s renewable portfolio standard. The standard has helped generate billions of dollars of investment in Kansas and is overwhelmingly supported by the public, according to a recent survey. But the standard is opposed by the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which spent more than a million dollars last election purging moderates from the state Senate. How can supporters of renewable energy, which includes faith groups, compete with those resources?

Open thread (March 26)

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‘The Doctors’ critical of Wolf’s X-ray posting, jokes

Wolf,MiltonWhen “The Doctors” TV talk show devoted a few minutes Monday to how Leawood radiologist and U.S. Senate candidate Milton Wolf (in photo) posted online and joked about gruesome X-ray images in the past, they didn’t cut their fellow medical professional any slack. Jennifer Ashton, an obstetrician and gynecologist, said: “I don’t think there’s anything educational or professional or moral or ethical about making jokes in any way, shape or form about anyone’s medical condition.” Family physician Rachael Ross said: “What I sense from these comments is that he’s a jerk.” Plastic surgeon Drew Ordon added: “He needs some help. He needs some counseling.” Travis Stork, who practices emergency medicine, concluded: “Being a doctor is a privilege, it’s not a right, and how we treat patients, you know, whether they’re still alive or they’ve passed – I think it’s essential to who we are as professionals.”

County can be frugal and transparent

closed-doorAccording to statements made at a special meeting of Sedgwick County’s Board of Bids and Contracts on Friday, a sheriff’s official met privately with each of the county commissioners and got their consent to push through an emergency purchase of computers for the Sheriff’s Office – which sounds like a violation of the 2009 state law requiring such “interactive communications” to be open meetings. Assistant county counselor Mike Pepoon said the official was “just briefing” commissioners and “if that’s a violation, we do that all the time.” Chief financial officer Chris Chronis told the bid board that commissioners were told “the transaction will be brought to them on their next available agenda for retroactive approval.” Such meetings happen “all the time”? “Retroactive approval” of a $137,100 expenditure? Wanting to save $80,000 on the purchase was laudable, but fiscal responsibility shouldn’t come at the expense of transparent government.

Open thread (March 25)

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New voting rules hindering elections

voterid“The state just continues to add complexity and confusion to elections,” Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew complained. He said that the number of rules added to elections over the past several years “is mind-boggling” and hinders elections, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. He also disagreed with Kansas Republican Party chairman Kelly Arnold that “the primary election belongs to the political party, not to the general public.” If that is true, Shew said, should the political parties run and pay for those elections? “It would save our county about $130,000 to not run the August election,” he said.

Democratic complaints about Kochs ‘dumb and delusionary’

kochsSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., clearly considers Charles and David Koch (in photos) to be the Democrats’ main opponents this election year, and has been pushing back on the Senate floor at misleading ads sponsored by Koch-funded groups in some races. “But the notion that Democrats can gin up their voters by marketing fear of the Kochs is dumb and delusionary,” wrote Dick Polman, a blogger and former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist. “Why do I say this? Because the anti-Koch strategy is classic ‘inside baseball’ – of great interest only to those voters who obsess about the political process…. It’s also a sign of weakness when a party or a candidate whines that the campaign process is unfair.”

Open thread (March 24)

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Did Roberts show GOP’s problem with Asian-Americans?

gopvoteAn article in Politico magazine headlined “Why Are Asian-Americans Democrats?” pointed to recent “clueless” remarks by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., during the confirmation hearing of U.S. surgeon general-nominee Vivek Murthy, a British-born Indian-American. Roberts’ small talk inviting Murthy to Dodge City to meet a “lovely doctor from India” and saying he would “be right at home” were of “the ‘I have plenty of friends who are Indian’ variety…. It likely reminded Murthy that he is different than the white ethnic majority – some other kind of American. However harmless it might seem, this is exactly the sort of exchange that makes Asian-Americans – the fastest growing ethnic group in the country – more likely to identify themselves as Democrats than Republicans, and by stunning margins,” wrote authors Alexander Kuo, Neil Malhotra and Cecilia Hyunjung Mo. Their conclusion: “As long as Republicans appear scornful of minorities, our findings suggest, they will not get Asian-Americans’ electoral support. This applies not only to rhetoric, but also to policy issues such as immigration reform.” Columnist David Harsanyi, while calling Roberts’ statement “clumsy,” responded that it could “be argued that the GOP is also a party that is far more likely to celebrate and foster the merit-based success on which the Asian community thrives.”