Category Archives: Kansas government

Brownback: Get off the fence on due-process rights

bbackwinWhy won’t Gov. Sam Brownback say whether he supports eliminating due-process rights for public school teachers? He’s been riding the fence since the Legislature passed a school-finance bill that strips teachers of these rights. If he supports that, he should say so. If he doesn’t, he should also say so – and then take action, by either vetoing the bill or demanding that legislators repeal the provision when they return to Topeka on April 30.

Paying less to Kansas but more to IRS

taxrevenueFormer state budget director Duane Goossen recently noted one little-discussed consequence of Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012-13 tax cuts: “When Kansans file their federal income-tax returns, they can deduct the amount they pay in state income taxes from their federal taxable income. So if a person’s state income-tax bill goes down by $1,000, their federal taxable income goes up by $1,000 because they lose the deduction,” he wrote on his blog for the Kansas Health Institute, where he is vice president for fiscal and health policy. He also wrote: “At a time when many Kansas lawmakers have been reluctant to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid eligibility, Kansas tax policy allows state dollars to flow the other way.”

Let world know there’s no place like Kansas

keeperbridge“There’s No Place Like Kansas” is a nice variation on the “Wizard of Oz” line and a good slogan for promoting Kansas tourism. More than 32 million people visit Kansas annually, generating $8 billion in expenditures, according to a news release from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. But Kansas has the potential to attract even more visitors. As Gov. Sam Brownback noted when he was in Wichita last week kicking off the new tourism campaign: “Kansas is a special place and we know it. Now we have to tell the rest of the world about it.”

House curbed teachers’ rights, then heard jewelry pitch

capitoldomeThere was an awkward moment in the minutes after the Kansas House vote to approve the school-funding bill, observed by the dozens of teachers in the gallery who’d just lost their due-process rights: Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, made an upbeat pitch to his colleagues that there was now a jeweler in the House (Rep. Steve Anthimides, R-Wichita) and they should check out the options for legislative bling. Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss observed: “After stripping teachers of their tenure, legislators had a brief discussion about jewelry…. Remove tenure and buy a ring. Makes all kinds of sense, doesn’t it?”

DeBacker’s expertise, enthusiasm will be missed

Gratitude and best wishes are due Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker upon her resignation to become an adviser to the director general of the Abu Dhabi Education Council in the United Arab Emirates. In her five years in the state’s top job in K-12 public education, DeBacker demonstrated a keen understanding of the complexities of education policy and policymaking as well as an enthusiasm for taking Kansas to the challenging next level on academic standards and student achievement.

Delay in alerting residents to water pollution is outrageous

waterfaucetWhat’s even more alarming than the report that the groundwater in several northwest Wichita neighborhoods is contaminated is the news that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment discovered the pollution in 2009. Why didn’t KDHE tell residents about the pollution sooner? Funding used for testing private wells wasn’t made available through the KDHE’s Dry Cleaning Remediation Program until earlier this year. So some residents have been drinking and bathing in potentially cancer-causing water for the past four years because KDHE couldn’t scrape up some money to test a few more wells? That’s outrageous.

GOP candidates support state takeover of Medicare

doctormedicareNot only did the Legislature approve a bill that could put the state in charge of Medicare, but all of the GOP candidates for Kansas insurance commissioner think it is a good idea. Seriously? At a forum in Wichita last week, the four Republican candidates said they supported Kansas joining a compact of states seeking to exempt themselves from federal health care rules. Though their comments focused on the Affordable Care Act, House Bill 2553 would give the state control of all federal health care programs, subject to congressional approval, including Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Sandy Praeger, the state’s current insurance commissioner (does she really have to retire?), warned that a state takeover of Medicare “could jeopardize the coverage and benefits that seniors have come to count on.” Senior citizens need to call Gov. Sam Brownback at 877-579-6757 or contact him through his website at governor.ks.gov and tell him to veto House Bill 2553. They, and all other Kansans, also need to think carefully about whom to vote for in upcoming elections.

Some relief for Kansans in seeing Sebelius go

sebeliustestifyFor Kansans who felt some guilt by association during the worst of the passage and rollout of the Affordable Care Act, there is some relief in seeing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius step down. The former Kansas governor was a smart choice for the key Cabinet post in 2009 because of her experience and her passion for health care policymaking and commitment to covering the uninsured. And Sebelius exits with ACA enrollment at 7.5 million – more than the target. But what an ordeal, including that appalling initial flop of the HealthCare.gov website. Any benefit for Kansas from her status was lost to partisanship, as Republican Gov. Sam Brownback wanted nothing to do with the ACA. Sebelius’ resume is now tarnished and her political career is surely over. Perhaps she will write a book about her experience at the center of the biggest political storm of the Obama presidency. It’s hard to believe now that Sebelius, as governor, had approval ratings in Kansas as high as 70 percent back in 2007.

So they said

huelskamp“What difference does it make?” – U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (in photo), R-Fowler, calling the House-passed budget blueprint crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a “ceremonial bill” (though Huelskamp voted for it)

“Brownback, see me after class!” – among the messages on signs carried by schoolteachers at the Capitol last weekend

“They took out a dozen of us. It was very personal and extremely dishonest. That’s the kind of thing that went on, and now it’s coming back to roost.” – former state Sen. Dick Kelsey, in a Politico Pro story about the 2012 purge of centrist GOP senators

“Yeah, it happens all the time.” – Secretary of State Kris Kobach, to a Florida radio host’s suggestion that “widows are voting for their dead husbands”

More polling problems for Brownback

brownbackofficialmugAnother Public Policy Polling survey has found Gov. Sam Brownback lagging Democratic challenger Paul Davis. In the firm’s April 1-2 poll of 886 Kansas voters (52 percent Republicans and 30 percent Democrats), 45 percent said they would vote for Davis, a Lawrence attorney who is the House minority leader, if the gubernatorial election were held today; 41 percent favored Brownback and 14 percent weren’t sure. Fifty-two percent said Kansas should accept the new federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage, and 41 percent said Brownback’s opposition to expansion would make them less likely to vote for him. In a February survey by the same North Carolina-based firm, Davis led Brownback 42 to 40 percent. The latest PPP survey was funded by the liberal group MoveOn.org, and a Brownback campaign spokesman dismissed the results.

Shame on Legislature for undermining teachers’ rights

teacherShame on the GOP leaders of the Kansas Legislature for using a Kansas Supreme Court order on school-funding inequities as an excuse to undermine teachers’ rights and meddle in education policymaking. As our Tuesday editorial asked: Where was the love for schools as the Legislature voted to strip teachers of their due-process rights, subsidize private education with a corporate income-tax credit, and pass unproven ideological reforms while trampling on the policymaking responsibilities of the Kansas State Board of Education?

Kansas gets costs, not benefits, of expanded Medicaid

healthcaregovOne of the projected costs of expanding Medicaid is the “woodwork effect.” It refers to people already eligible for Medicaid who come “out of the woodwork” as they learn about the program. But this effect happens even in states such as Kansas that refuse to expand Medicaid, because of all the publicity about the Affordable Care Act. Kansas’ enrollment in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program increased to 415,284 in February, up more than 17,000, or 4.3 percent, from monthly averages before the launch of the ACA insurance marketplace. So Kansas’ costs are increasing, but it isn’t receiving the financial benefit of expanding Medicaid.

Butler Co. lawmakers backed effort to burn teachers

candidateIn a commentary headlined “Teachers get burned while Masterson gets a tan,” Kent Bush, publisher of the Butler County Times-Gazette, blasted area lawmakers for revoking due-process rights of public schoolteachers and for being puppets of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity. He particularly called out Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, who led the Senate negotiations before leaving for a family vacation. Bush described Masterson as a nice guy away from the state Senate. “But if you want someone to determine education policy, I can’t think of many people who would be worse,” Bush wrote. “Masterson has never made it a secret that he holds public schools in low regard – seeing them as ineffective and inefficient.”

Rhoades blames House education bill on ‘election year’

candidateRep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, is saying a bit more about his resignation last week as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He wrote in a blog post that he could only support adding significant funding to equalize school aid, as ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court, if it was tied to reforms aimed at improving education outcomes. But House leadership rejected several reforms in his initial bill, and he said “it was clear there was little appetite for allowing changes to the bill in committee.” Why didn’t the House bill include measurable education outcomes? “Because it’s an election year,” Rhoades wrote. Another possibility is that schools already are overloaded with educational measurements. The bill was supposed to fix an unconstitutional funding problem, not be a tool for ideological mandates.

So they said

“Representative, this isn’t on the topic of the bill.” – House Speaker Ray Merrickmerrick_ray (in photo), R-Stilwell, interrupting as Rep. Randy Garber, R-Sabetha, brought abortion into the debate on a bill to bar another Sedgwick County gambling vote until 2032 (to which Garber said, “Pardon?”)

“Secretary Sebelius why is #unpopularity of ObamaScare so #shocking to you?” – Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, tweeting a link to an article saying HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was “speechless” when asked about the ACA’s poor polling

“@CongHuelskamp You do recognize you are a member of Congress? Might want to actually start acting like it. ‘ObamaScare’? What are you, 5?” – David Badash, editor of the online journal the New Civil Rights Movement, responding to Huelskamp on Twitter

“Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) hit the first three-pointer of the night.” – Washington Post article on a charity basketball game in which the Hill’s Angels (members of Congress and staffers) defeated the Hoya Lawyers (Georgetown Law School faculty) 46-40

Bill banning slots vote was unnecessary, overkill

slotsThe Kansas House wisely rejected a Senate bill Friday that would prohibit Sedgwick County from holding another vote on gambling until 2032. The bill was unnecessary and overkill, as the Legislature already controls whether county residents can revote on allowing slot machines at Wichita Greyhound Park. There is no need to ban another vote for 18 years. The bill also sends the message that lawmakers don’t care what locals think, now or in the future.

Brownback wanted economy measured in ‘timely manner’

taxrevenueIn the commentary on today’s Opinion page, Stan Ahlerich, executive director of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors, argues that it is irresponsible to look only at “a narrow, short-term set of facts” when evaluating the state’s economy. But these facts are the very benchmarks that Gov. Sam Brownback and the council established to measure the state’s economy. And Brownback himself said two years ago that they should be used “to monitor in a timely manner if our policies and initiatives are having the desired economic effect.” Brownback also said that his tax cuts would act like “a shot of adrenaline to the heart” of the Kansas economy. That sounds like Kansas was supposed to see quick improvements – not see lower growth rates than the regional average on all but one of the measurements. Even when the past five years are compared, Kansas lags the regional average in nearly all the council’s benchmarks.

Legislature doesn’t want ACA to work in Kansas

healthcarereformEven after its disastrous rollout, the Affordable Care Act exceeded projections and enrolled 7.1 million Americans in private insurance plans by Monday’s deadline. This is on top of the more than 3 million adults younger than 26 who were added to their parents’ insurance plans, and on top of the millions who gained coverage through Medicaid expansion. “It’s working. It’s helping people from coast to coast,” President Obama said. But state GOP legislators are still determined to keep the ACA from helping low-income Kansans. The Kansas Senate voted last week to prohibit the state from expanding Medicaid unless the Legislature approves. And the House approved a bill to remove Kansas from the ACA (and potentially Medicare) and join a multistate compact.

Ditch legislative pay raise but curb pension perk

money-bagA proposal by Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, to more than double the pay of state lawmakers hasn’t gotten far this session – and understandably so. Lawmakers haven’t exactly shown themselves to be deserving of a pay raise. But one part of his proposal does deserve legislative action: ending the sweetheart deal lawmakers get in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. Lawmakers’ pensions are calculated as if they were paid every day of the year, not the typical 90-day session. What’s more, they can include their daily expense allotment in the calculation and any out-of-session expense payments (also pretending that both were paid every day of the year). Thus, even though the real salary of an average state lawmaker is $7,979, the pretend pay for KPERS can be $86,528. And then they complain about KPERS being underfunded.

Legislature not helping attract more people to Kansas

capitoldomeThough Kansas needs to improve its economy in order to attract more citizens, it also needs to be a more welcoming state, wrote Chase M. Billingham, an assistant professor of sociology at Wichita State University. And the Legislature isn’t helping. “Legislative efforts to legitimate discrimination against lesbian and gay couples, to limit the voting power of racial and ethnic minorities, and to resist the full and equitable funding of the state’s public school districts send a message to Americans that Kansas is not a desirable destination,” Billingham wrote. “This public perception is likely to manifest itself in persistently depressed net domestic migration numbers for years to come.”

Kansas’ economy, employment lagging region

kansasgreetingsAnother report shows the Kansas economy is lagging, and this one can’t be dismissed by Gov. Sam Brownback’s supporters. That’s because it is from the governor’s own Council of Economic Advisors and is based on benchmarks established specifically to measure economic trends. The March 2014 report shows that in the past year Kansas grew less than regional states in population, gross state product, personal income, employment, private-industry wage level, private-business establishment and several other measurements. For example, Kansas’ private-sector employment growth rate was 0.9 percent compared with 1.5 percent for the six-state region (and 2.1 percent for the nation). Also, private-industry wage levels went down slightly in Kansas but up slightly in the region and nation. The only measure in which Kansas did better than the regional average last year was in the growth of building permits. In establishing the benchmarks two years ago, Brownback said they would enable the state “to monitor in a timely manner if our policies and initiatives are having the desired economic effect.” So far, the answer is “no.”

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.

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.”

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