Category Archives: Kansas government

Follow other states’ lead on Medicaid expansion

Doctor Speaking with PatientPennsylvania became the ninth state led by a Republican governor to expand Medicaid. Its expansion, which was approved last week, will be contracted through the state’s privatized Medicaid program, similar to KanCare, and will provide health coverage to nearly 500,000 low-income adults. Counting Pennsylania, 27 states and the District of Columbia have now expanded Medicaid, and several other states are pursuing it, including Indiana. But in Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature refuse to act. As a result, about 75,000 Kansans are left without health insurance and Kansas hospitals are stuck with unpaid bills. It’s a lose/lose.

Why was Kobach on delinquent tax list?

kobach2One of the things a candidate for public office never wants to see is his name on a list of delinquent taxpayers. But Secretary of State Kris Kobach had the embarrassment of having to explain why he was on the Douglas County list of delinquent property taxes that was published in the Lawrence Journal-World. Kobach lives in Wyandotte County but owns property in Douglas County. Kobach told the Journal-World that he challenged the valuation on the property but either didn’t receive or didn’t notice the revised valuation notice. Kobach paid the $614.32 tax bill on Aug. 13, the same day the delinquent tax list was published in the newspaper.

Immigration shouldn’t be top issue of secretary of state race

kobachcandidKansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is locked in a tight race with Democrat Jean Schodorf. Both candidates have 46 percent support in the latest SurveyUSA poll, sponsored by KSN, Channel 3. But where Kobach is succeeding is in making immigration a top issue of the campaign, even though it has little to nothing to do with the office. Of those surveyed, 37 percent said that immigration was the most important issue, followed by 21 percent who said voter registration. Among those concerned about immigration, Kobach leads Schodorf by 32 points.

So the independent polls are inaccurate?

thumbsupdownGov. Sam Brownback’s campaign tried to dismiss a new SurveyUSA poll showing Brownback trailing Democrat Paul Davis by 8 points. “SurveyUSA has a history of inaccurate polling and this is more of the same,” the campaign said in a statement. Actually, SurveyUSA has been one of the more accurate polls in recent state elections. And what about the latest Rasmussen Reports poll, which is Republican leaning and showed Davis up by 10 points? Or the latest survey by Public Policy Polling, which had Davis up by 2 points? Meanwhile, the Brownback campaign released its own “internal poll” Tuesday showing Brownback leading by 1 point. Obviously, much could change between now and the November election, and Brownback and his allies will continue to try to paint Davis as a lackey of President Obama. But the SurveyUSA poll, which was sponsored by KSN, Channel 3, shows the hole Brownback is in right now: He trails Davis in every age, gender and racial category.

Kobach is ‘go-to’ guy on immigration lawsuits

kobach2Secretary of State Kris Kobach was profiled by Reuters news service as “the most prominent figure among a small group of lawyers working to punch legal holes in (President) Obama’s immigration policies.” The article noted that Kobach is challenging “Obama’s 2012 decision to grant temporary deportation relief and work permits to young people brought to the United States illegally as children by their parents” – though many legal experts don’t expect him to get far. If Obama announces new major immigration policy changes, as expected, Kobach likely will be part of a legal challenge. Meanwhile, Kobach was in Denver Monday arguing before an appeals court that voters who register using a federal form should have to provide proof-of-citizenship documents. His Democratic opponent in the November election, former state Sen. Jean Schodorf, is questioning how much time Kobach spends on immigration issues rather than on his taxpayer-funded job. On Wednesday she plans to release her personal income tax returns dating from 2011 and has called on Kobach to do the same.

Brownback has changed emphasis on K-12 spending

brownback54In a TV ad for his re-election campaign, Gov. Sam Brownback says, “We’re putting more money in public education.” That’s true. Total school funding in Kansas is more for fiscal 2015 than it was in fiscal 2011, when the governor took office. Brownback and others rightly point with pride to increased funding for teacher pensions and capital costs, and to some extra money and local property-tax relief ordered by the courts. But in Brownback’s first gubernatorial campaign and earlier in his term, he complained that too few dollars were making it into Kansas classrooms, even using a questionably low percentage to try to prove his point (in photo). His count-it-all view now seems at odds with his classroom emphasis back then. And as Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards recently wrote, “when measured against changes in the cost of living, funding for educational programs that can actually be spent on teachers, administrators and student support programs has declined by $500 million since 2009.” That’s why hearing Brownback’s claims of “more money” for schools makes many of those who work in schools want to raise their hands in objection.

DCF’s ‘good move’ not so good for downtown

finneybldgMany are still shaking their heads over the Kansas Department for Children and Families’ decision, expected for a year and finally confirmed last week, to exit the Finney State Office Building and move to 2601 S. Oliver in 2015. That will mean 550 fewer workers in a downtown that needs more. DCF will no longer be centrally located and accessible via multiple bus routes. The state will be paying $13 a square foot at the facility the U.S. Postal Service is vacating, instead of the $6 the city offered the Brownback administration to try to keep state agencies and their more than 700 employees in the Finney building. Yes, the place badly needs work, but the city had offered to do a $6 million renovation as well. Yet a DCF spokeswoman characterized this as an “all-around good move.”

New Kellogg/I-235 interchange is finally happening

kellogg,I-235Many Wichitans won’t believe it until they see it, but a new interchange at I-235 and Kellogg is on the horizon. The Kansas Department of Transportation announced last week that the interchange will be part of $1.2 billion in road and bridge improvement projects across the state over the next two years. Also on the list are $95 million in expansions to East Kellogg from Cypress to Wiedemann. Though the I-235 interchange isn’t quite as much of a death trap since the city added another lane to the bridges on Kellogg over the Big Ditch, the 1950s-era interchange is unsafe and outdated. KDOT plans to begin work in November 2015 and complete construction in 2017. That is provided the Legislature doesn’t raid the funding to cover state budget shortfalls.

Schmidt defends outside legal expenses

schmidtKansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt defended the more than $8 million that his office has spent on outside legal counsel. “We’ve managed the available resources very effectively,” Schmidt told the Topeka Capital-Journal. Schmidt’s Democratic opponent, A.J. Kotich, has criticized the spending and said that, if elected, he would have staff attorneys handle more of such work. He also said he would not defend state laws and actions that he determined to be unconstitutional. Schmidt said he would continue to defer to the legislative and executive branches. “I operate as the state’s lawyer,” he said. The outside legal expenses include $1.4 million so far on the school-finance lawsuit and $1.1 million defending anti-abortion laws.

GOP looks strong in most down-ballot statewide races

thumbsupdownBeyond the headline, which was “Roberts, Brownback both struggling in Kansas,” the latest survey results from Public Policy Polling were about as expected in this heavily Republican state. Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s lead over Democrat Jean Schodorf was only 43 to 38 percent in the survey of 903 likely voters conducted Aug. 14-17, but Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Treasurer Ron Estes were favored by 24 percentage points over their respective Democratic challengers, A.J. Kotich and Carmen Alldritt. And Ken Selzer, the winner of this month’s GOP primary for insurance commissioner, was leading Democrat Dennis Anderson 43 to 29 percent. One data point further indicates that losing GOP challenger Milton Wolf has left a mark on Kansans’ view of Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.: 61 percent said the senior senator does not spend enough time in Kansas.

State support of universities likely to keep dropping

collegetuitionState funding makes up about 20 percent of the total operating expenditures of Kansas’ public universities, down from 28 percent in 2008, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. In 10 years, the percentage of state support could drop into the single digits, said Kansas State University president Kirk Schulz. “Our financial picture will look much more like a private, middle-sized university,” Schulz said. As a result, much more of the cost of higher education will be shifted to students and families, who already have seen tuition rates soar during the past decade.

Is Brownback an education governor?

bbackgovGov. Sam Brownback is trying to cast himself as an education governor, arguing that he has overseen “record school funding.” But a Kansas City Star editorial noted that the funding increases were mostly for the state’s pension system and for building and other capital costs. “The money school districts rely on to make their payrolls, purchase classrooms supplies and meet other day-to-day expenses is $548 less on a per-student basis than it was six years ago,” the editorial said. Brownback deserves credit for helping shore up the pension fund, the editorial argued, “but being a ‘pension governor’ isn’t the same as an education governor.”

So they said

norquist“Kansas has passed law to phase out the personal and corporate income tax as state revenue increases over time. This is why Left is livid.” – Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist (in photo), on Twitter earlier this month

“The biggest, shiniest prize for Democrats this November is in the most unlikely state – Kansas.” – Fox News political analyst Juan Williams, mentioning the gubernatorial race in a column for the Hill

“An idea: A national news organization should put a reporter in Kansas from Labor Day until Election Day. Absolutely fascinating state.” – Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza, tweeting after GOP primary

Negative ads deserve condemnation, not awards

mud.jpbBelieve it or not, some of the despicable political mailers you receive this election may end up winning awards. The American Association of Political Consultants’ annual awards include 10 categories devoted to “negative/contrast” ads, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Two mailers from 2012 that targeted then-Kansas Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, won awards, even though the mailers made outrageous claims – such as accusing Morris of spending “over a third of a billion dollars renovating his offices.” “I think that’s probably as low as you can go in politics,” Morris said of the awards. “That’s rewarding evil.”

KanCare needs to pay its bills on time

healthcaregovIt wasn’t surprising that none of the three insurance companies that manage KanCare met the state’s benchmark for timeliness in processing claims. Soon after the state privatized managing Medicaid last year, providers began complaining about late payments. The problems were so bad that some providers had to hire more staff just to argue with the insurance companies. The delayed payments also created cash-flow problems for many clinics and hospitals. Though the situation has improved, it’s still a concern. From April through June of this year, there were more than 500 grievances filed against the three companies, many involving billing and timeliness.

More tough polling news for Brownback

bbackmugPaul Davis, Democratic candidate for Kansas governor.  2014The new Rasmussen Reports poll in the governor’s race was quite a switch from mid-April, when the firm found incumbent Sam Brownback (left) leading House Minority Leader Paul Davis (right) 47 to 40 percent. Now Rasmussen says Davis is leading 51 to 41 percent – even though, as reported by the Lawrence Journal-World, 19 percent of those polled haven’t heard of him. That’s a powerful reflection of Kansans’ discontent with Brownback, as are the findings that 40 percent approve of the job he is doing and 49 percent say the budget situation has worsened in the past year. Davis leads among women, men and all age groups, with Brownback much preferred by those who haven’t finished high school or pursued schooling beyond it. The survey of 750 “likely voters” was conducted on Aug. 6-7, the two days after the governor lost 37 percent of Republicans to an unknown primary challenger.

At least disclosure violation is in the past

capitoldomeIt’s disconcerting that the state of Kansas violated investment disclosure laws when it sold bonds several years ago, though it’s good that the problem appears to be in the past. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced this week that the state had failed to adequately disclose the poor financial condition of its pension plan when issuing bonds in 2009 and 2010 to pay for state projects. The SEC issued a cease-and-desist order against the state. To its credit, Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration already had changed how the state handles the disclosures. Brownback and the Legislature also reformed the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System to improve its solvency.

Ideological divide in Kansas House unlikely to change

statehouseDespite well-financed efforts by conservative and moderate groups to defeat certain GOP state lawmakers, only three Republican incumbents in the Kansas House lost their primaries last week – one of whom was Rep. Joe Edwards, R-Haysville. Thus, unless Democrats pick up a significant number of seats in the general election, the ideological disposition of the House will likely remain the same next session, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. “The re-creation of a moderate-Democrat working majority in the House is now probably beyond reach in 2014,” said Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party.

Voter-impersonation fraud is nearly nonexistent

voteridThe purpose of voter ID requirements, such as the one in Kansas, to is prevent someone from showing up to vote and pretending to be someone else. But how often does that actually happen? Almost never. Justin Levitt of the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles documented every known allegation of voter-impersonation fraud nationwide since 2000. Out of more than 1 billion votes cast during that 14-year period, he found only 31 alleged cases of impersonation fraud. That’s less that 0.0000031 percent. What’s more, it’s unclear how many of the 31 cases were actual fraud; several may just be computer or data-entry mistakes. To stop this nonexistent problem, 34 states have passed voter ID laws, potentially disenfranchising thousands and thousands of voters.

Open judicial selection process welcome, endangered

justiceladyThis week’s vetting of 13 applicants for the Kansas Supreme Court stood out for its welcome transparency, including a public audience and even live-tweeting of the interviews by some observers. And the three finalists recommended to Gov. Sam Brownback by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission all seem well-qualified – Kansas Court of Appeals Judges Karen Arnold-Burger and Caleb Stegall and 5th Judicial District Chief Judge Merlin Wheeler. But it could be the last such exercise of open government in Kansas if a re-elected Brownback and conservative Legislature again pursue a constitutional amendment to junk the nonpartisan commission in favor of letting the governor do his own picking, subject to a Senate vote. That would be a bad move. Before Brownback chose Stegall, an administration attorney, for the appeals court last summer, exercising his new unilateral selection power for that court, the governor released no names of applicants or finalists and the vetting was done behind closed doors. What Brownback sold to legislators as a remedy for the supposedly secretive, undemocratic nominating commission system turned out to be more secretive as well as partisan.

Chamber, AFP failed to purge more moderates

middleroadThis time, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity-Kansas failed to purge state lawmakers who wouldn’t toe their line. The groups targeted about half a dozen lawmakers who didn’t support attempts to repeal the state’s renewable energy standards. All of the lawmakers won their primaries Tuesday. “I was No. 1 on their hit list,” Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, told the Kansas Health Institute News Service. “But I stood my ground for the people of my district, and they got it.” In the 2012 primaries, the Koch-backed groups were successful in defeating several GOP moderates. Jennings thinks voters may have “some buyers’ remorse about what happened two years ago.”

Election went more smoothly, but turnout disappointing

votingaug14It’s concerning that some Wichita voters showed up at the wrong polling places Tuesday and said they were never informed that their voting locations had changed. Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman must do a much better job of alerting people to poll changes before the November election – as she has pledged to do. But Tuesday’s election didn’t have the processing problems that delayed and distorted results during the 2012 elections. That’s a relief. What’s most disappointing about the election is the low turnout. Only 18.7 percent of registered voters in Sedgwick County voted in the primary, down from 25.6 percent in the 2010 primary. In one area House race, fewer than 400 people voted.

Wall Street Journal editorial asked Kansas ‘to ignore the bad stuff’

emptypocketA recent Wall Street Journal editorial defended Gov. Sam Brownback’s economic policies and claimed that liberals are afraid that other states will follow the tax-cutting trend. “Are they kidding?” asked former state budget director Duane Goossen. He wrote that the editorial “asks Kansans to look away, to wait longer, to ignore the bad stuff … suggesting all the while that it’s not really so very worrisome. But it is.” Rather than being worried that the tax cuts will succeed, Goossen said, “here in Kansas, we are worried that the state will face a long, long recovery from the fallout from the 2012 tax policy.”

Would-be tax cutters watching Kansas’ experiment

tax-calculatorReacting to New York Times and other national commentary declaring Kansas’ income tax cuts a failure, a Republican in New York’s State Assembly fretted to Reason.com’s Ira Stoll that the left “will use this Kansas example against every governor who tries to reduce taxes if there is no push-back now.” Stoll said “the Kansas experiment is still in progress,” with more tax cuts scheduled, concluding: “The measure of the success or failure of these tax cuts shouldn’t just be the effect they have on the bottom line of the Kansas state budget. The measure should be the effect they have on the budgets of the individuals, families and businesses that are residents of Kansas.” Responding to a commentary in the Telegraph headlined, “Why Britain should follow the yellow brick road to Kansas and cut taxes,” an online British post concluded: “When a choice has to be made, we should go with the straight and narrow path of paying our way in the world, not the yellow brick road of debt-funded tax cuts.”

Kansas gets ‘woodwork effect’ but no federal funds

Doctor Speaking with PatientOpponents of allowing a federal expansion of Medicaid in Kansas argue that, even though the federal government would pay the full cost of expansion for the first three years, it would increase state costs. One of the main reasons for that is the “woodwork effect,” in which publicity and outreach about expansion would draw out people who were already eligible for Medicaid or other programs but hadn’t signed up. But that happened anyway. The number of people on KanCare – the state’s privatized Medicaid program – increased about 7.5 percent, from 396,374 people in April 2013 to 426,360 this past April. State officials attribute the increase to the woodwork effect caused by the implementation of the Affordable Care Act nationwide. So Kansas has higher costs but no federal money for expanding Medicaid, estimated at about $820 million over the next three years. That’s a lose-lose for the state budget.