Category Archives: Kansas government

New jobs report is nothing to brag about

joblessKansas Labor Secretary Lana Gordon said the state’s new jobs report was good news. “With another month of private-sector job growth, Kansas continues its comeback from the recession,” she said. The problem is that job growth is much slower than the national average and lower than in nearly all the surrounding states. The June report showed private-sector employment in Kansas grew only about 1.3 percent over the past year. Nationally, it grew 3 percent. What’s more, Kansas was one of only nine states that had fewer jobs at the end of June than it did seven months ago. The unemployment rate in Kansas also increased slightly, to 4.9 percent, while the rate in Wichita rose to 5.9 percent.

Health compact another grievance against Brownback

morrissteve2Saying “it is OK to support a high-quality Democrat for governor,” former Kansas Senate President Steve Morris (in photo) explained to the Garden City Telegram that the concerns that led him to join the more than 100 Republicans endorsing Democrat Paul Davis over Gov. Sam Brownback went beyond the “huge deficits” that are likely because of the 2012 income tax cuts and the ongoing raid on transportation funds. He also pointed to the 2014 passage of the health care compact law, a multistate mutiny against the Affordable Care Act that could lead to Kansas taking over senior citizens’ health care. “To try and take over Medicare? No other state’s ever done that. It would be a total train wreck,” Morris said. As the Kansas Republican Party was quick to point out, some of the Republicans for Davis “were thrown out by Kansas voters.” Morris was among those moderates ousted in the Brownback-led purge of 2012.

National media spotlight on Kansas (but not in a favorable way)

statesealMaybe former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum wasn’t exaggerating when he said last week that the “future of the free world” hinges on Kansas’ gubernatorial race. National media are certainly treating Kansas’ political and economic news as major stories. Click here to read excerpts from a few recent commentaries.

Victors, King among ‘rising political stars’

victors,ponka-weking,jeffWhen MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown” recently singled out “rising political stars” in Kansas, the Democrats were Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, the “underdog” challenging Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and state Rep. Ponka-We Victors (left), D-Wichita, noted for her Native American ancestry and advocacy for small business and higher education. The Republicans were state Sen. Jeff King (right), R-Independence, highlighted as a “strong voice on increasing public safety” and likely attorney general candidate in 2018, and Attorney General Derek Schmidt, credited with “putting child sex offenders behind bars for life and building a state-of-the-art crime lab” and mentioned as a future candidate for governor.

AFP explanation as disingenuous as mailer

clayton,stephanieIt shouldn’t be surprising that the group behind a disingenuous political mailer is also disingenuous about its purpose. Americans for Prosperity-Kansas sent out mailers blasting Rep. Stephanie Clayton (in photo), R-Overland Park, for voting “against our kid’s future.” The vote in question is the school finance bill that passed late at night this past session. It included the highly controversial (but AFP-backed) provisions to strip teachers of their state-mandated due-process rights and to give tax breaks to corporations for donating to private school scholarship funds. When contacted by The Eagle, AFP-Kansas director Jeff Glendening denied that the mailer had anything to do with helping Clayton’s conservative challenger in the upcoming GOP primary. Yeah, right. He also said – repeatedly – that the mailer didn’t say to “vote for or against” anyone. Why did he emphasize that so much? Because not saying those magic words means that AFP doesn’t have to disclose its funding sources.

2006 Kansas race proved campaign mail works

klinedebate2While expressing exasperation in the Los Angeles Times about having received 200 mailers before a recent primary, campaign strategist Darry Sragow wondered whether such onslaughts are effective and noted: “A team of professors at Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale looked at the impact of a six-piece mailing program in the 2006 contest for Kansas attorney general and found that the mailings had a statistically and politically significant effect on the candidate’s share of the vote. They concluded that a 10 percent increase in the amount of mail sent to a precinct increased the candidate’s vote share by roughly 3 percentage points.” The research focused on the “Snoop Dog” mailings by the group Kansans for Consumer Privacy Protection, which had ties to abortion provider George Tiller. The fliers criticized incumbent Phill Kline (in photo) for snooping through women’s medical records and helped Democrat Paul Morrison beat him by 17 percentage points. The researchers wrote that there was “no evidence that these mailings affected turnout. As a result, we conclude that these mailings persuaded individuals who were already going to turn out to switch for whom they voted.”

When candidates don’t debate, voters lose

debateThe hot races of the unseasonably cool summer in Kansas have seen a scarcity of debates. That may serve candidates strategically but makes losers of the voters. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and former Rep. Todd Tiahrt sparred at a Wichita Crime Commission forum and have agreed to debate on TV (6:30 p.m. Monday, KWCH, Channel 12) and radio (6 p.m. July 27, KNSS 1330-AM). Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, and challenger Alan LaPolice shared the stage at a Liberal event. Secretary of State Kris Kobach and GOP challenger Scott Morgan both spoke to Wichita Pachyderm Club members on Friday. But there have been too few public face-offs, and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has declined to debate tea partier Milton Wolf. As the Kansas City Star’s Steve Kraske said in expressing disappointment in Roberts: “At election time, we expect our candidates to stand side by side with their opponents and address the day’s pressing issues. At least once, right?”

Nice to know names of Supreme Court applicants

stegall,calebTwo thoughts about the 14 applicants who’d like to replace Justice Nancy Moritz on the Kansas Supreme Court: There is a lot of ambition on the Kansas Court of Appeals; four of its members are seeking the promotion, including Chief Judge Thomas Malone and Brownback-appointed Judges Tony Powell and Caleb Stegall (the last, in photo, on the court a mere six months). And it’s great to know who applied – standard practice with Supreme Court openings, but also a transparency that may be endangered. Gov. Sam Brownback and some lawmakers have sought to change the state constitution to cut out the nominating commission and give the governor free rein to fill openings (subject to Senate confirmation), as he now has for the Court of Appeals. Last year, Brownback declined to release the names of the applicants for a new Court of Appeals spot, then picked Stegall, his former counsel. That was the first time in 32 years that Kansans hadn’t known who applied for the court and who made it to the top three.

Can’t conclude that tax cuts pay for themselves

taxcuts“The business boom predicted by tax cut advocates has not happened, and it certainly has not come remotely close to offsetting the static revenue loss from the legislated tax cuts,” Howard Gleckman wrote in Forbes magazine about Kansas’ declining tax revenues and sluggish economy. Gleckman concluded: “One can argue whether cutting taxes is a good thing. One can argue about whether government is too big. One can even argue about whether low taxes increase business activity. But one cannot credibly argue that tax cuts increase revenue or even pay for themselves.” Another Forbes contributor, David Brunori, argued that while Gov. Sam Brownback oversold the short-term benefits of the tax cuts, it “may be too early to know if the Kansas experiment is a long-term failure.”

Davis endorsements a ‘RINO stampede’?

elephantfightThe national political media, including some opinionated observers, lit up over Tuesday’s endorsement by dozens of Kansas Republicans of Democrat Paul Davis for governor. “RINO stampede in Kansas,” declared American Thinker. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne tweeted: “What’s the matter with #Kansas? 104 Republicans oppose Gov. Sam #Brownback because his tax cuts went too far.” Breitbart.com called the 104 “mostly long-retired or recently fired moderate, establishment Republicans” and the move a “spiteful strike against the voters of Kansas who threw many of them out of office.” Closer to home, former Kansas House Speaker Doug Mays initially tweeted, “I was surprised at the list of R’s endorsing Rep. Davis. I actually thought about 1/3 of them had died.” A later tweet apologized for his “intemperate, insensitive remark…. I violated my own rules & philosophy regarding political discourse.”

Secretary of state race also getting some notice

Scott Morgan, candidate for Kansas Secretary of State.  2014Kansas’ gubernatorial race is receiving a lot of national media attention, but the GOP primary in the secretary of state race also is starting to get some notice. Scott Morgan (in photo), who is challenging incumbent Kris Kobach, appeared this week on the “All In With Chris Hayes” show on MSNBC. Morgan, who served as a staff member to former Sens. Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum Baker, acknowledged that it will be difficult to win in a GOP primary, but he felt compelled to run. “At some point you have to stand up and say, ‘This isn’t us; we’re better than this.’” Morgan said that Kansans may not be flashy but we are decent. “We can be kind to each other,” he said, “and we don’t have to fan fear all the time.”

Davis backers include area school board members

davis,paulThe 104 current and former Republican officials who are endorsing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis (in photo) include several area school board members, reflecting the strained relationship between school districts and Gov. Sam Brownback. “As a 13-year local board of education member, I know four more years of the current governor will not be good for kids or Kansas,” Wichita school board member Lynn Rogers said. Other area GOP school board members include Gail Jamison, Sara McDonald and Kevin McWhorter of Goddard; Roger Elliott of Andover; and Janet Sprecker of Derby. Carol Rupe Linnens, former member of both the Wichita school board and the Kansas State Board of Education, spoke at the announcement event in Topeka Tuesday. “We need a governor who values our schools and makes them a top priority,” she said.

Brownback: Preserving environment is conservative, biblical

environmentGov. Sam Brownback noted in an NBC News interview that environmental issues haven’t “been an area of interest in my wing of the Republican Party – the conservative wing of the party.” But he argued that it’s a natural fit. “To conserve and be responsible for our natural resources is a very conservative position to take,” he said. “But it’s also about taking care of what God gave you.” In addition to his efforts to preserve the state’s water supply, Brownback noted the investment in Kansas in wind energy. “I think God gave us a beautiful place,” Brownback said. “He gave us a fabulous aquifer. And I think we need to be responsible with that and see that future generations can use that as well.”

Maybe Brownback should avoid medical metaphors

brownbackofficialmugGov. Sam Brownback’s claim that Kansas tax cuts would act “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy” hasn’t panned out. So he recently switched medical metaphors, likening the tax plan to going through surgery. “It takes a while to heal and get growing afterwards,” he told the Wall Street Journal. But the new metaphor is still providing fodder for critics. A New York Times editorial this week observed that “it’s not clear the patient can recover from this surgery,” noting that the state could blow through all its cash reserves by the end of this new fiscal year. Steve Thorngate wrote in Christian Century that “the operation was entirely elective, motivated by not necessity but ideology,” and he warned others to “look to Kansas and see what very concrete things happen when lawmakers choose to starve their own government.”

Can’t blame all of revenue drop on capital gains

taxrevenueFormer state budget director Duane Goossen raised more doubts about the Brownback administration’s claim that federal tax policies caused the state to miss its revenue estimates by $338 million during the past three months. Even if $3 billion in capital gains income was shifted from the 2013 tax year to 2012 (which Goossen points out is highly improbable, as $3 billion would be the entire amount of capital gains income for Kansans in an average year), at most that might have resulted in a reduction of $147 million in state income tax collections in fiscal year 2014 (assuming that the entire amount was taxed at the highest rate). That’s less than half as much as the estimates were off. All total, Kansas collected $726 million less in tax revenue in the fiscal year that ended June 30. That’s more than the tax drop during the entire Great Recession, Goossen noted, when revenue fell $618 million during a three-year period.

Still too many Kansans lacking health insurance

doctoroutAbout 359,000 Kansans – or 12.6 percent of the population – were uninsured in 2012, according to a new report by the Kansas Health Institute. The national average was 14.8 percent. In Sedgwick County, the uninsured rate was 15.5 percent. Two-thirds of uninsured Kansans have family incomes above the federal poverty level ($23,050 annually for a family of four in 2012), KHI reported, and more than three out of four uninsured Kansas adults are working. Though the current uninsured rate is not known, more than 57,000 Kansans signed up for health coverage through the insurance marketplace, according to federal data. That total doesn’t include Kansans 26 and younger who are now receiving health insurance through their parents’ plans, as part of the Affordable Care Act. More than 75,000 additional Kansans could be insured if Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature would allow a federal expansion of Medicaid.

‘Religious freedom’ bill likely to be back

gayweddingcakeGiven that a recent federal appeals court ruling puts Kansas’ same-sex marriage ban in jeopardy, it’s not surprising that some are planning another push next legislative session to pass a “religious freedom” law. The Kansas House passed a bill this past session that would grant additional legal protections to those who don’t want to accommodate same-sex couples for religious reasons. But the bill immediately died in the Senate after opposition from the business community, gay rights groups and others who said the bill sought to legalize discrimination. “We are not going to let it die. We are very committed,” Wichita pastor Terry Fox told Associated Press. Thomas Witt of Wichita, executive director of Equality Kansas, also expects the issue to resurface next session. “I don’t think they’re going to stop their attacks,” he said.

DCF also deserves rebuke in Henderson case

gavelSedgwick County District Court Judge Timothy Henderson isn’t the only one who deserves a rebuke. So does the Kansas Department for Children and Families. In addition to recommending that Henderson be censured for harassing women attorneys, the state’s Commission on Judicial Qualifications concluded that Henderson wrongly sent an e-mail informing officials with DCF that Wichita attorney Martin Bauer used to handle birth adoptions associated with Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller and had supported “gay adoptions.” The e-mail was sent to Jeff Kahrs, chief of staff at DCF, and Diane Bidwell, then head of DCF’s Wichita office. Bauer had handled some adult guardianship cases for DCF, but after receiving the e-mail, DCF removed Bauer and his law firm, Martin Pringle, from its appointment list. The commission ruled that Henderson “inappropriately mixed his personal views on sociopolitical issues” with his official duties. So did DCF.

Local governments grasping for cuts, revenue

moneystretchJuly is budgeting time for Kansas’ cities and counties, which means tough choices any year but especially for 2015. This week the Douglas County administrator proposed a property tax increase of 3.85 mills, in part to offset the loss of revenue from the Legislature’s repeal of the mortgage registration fee, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. And the Finney County Commission proposed a budget that slightly lowers the mill levy but includes a 10 percent across-the-board cut to funding for outside agencies that serve seniors, the mentally ill and children, among others, the Garden City Telegram reported. “We can’t fund it all and keep taxpayers happy,” Finney County Commission Chairman Larry Jones said.

Turnpike overlook would be welcome addition

flinthillsLess is more when it comes to development along the stretch of the Kansas Turnpike that runs through the expansive Flint Hills, which are as close as contemporary America comes to the vast tallgrass prairie that pioneers experienced. But it would be great to see the addition of a scenic overlook, which is being considered by the Kansas Turnpike Authority in conjunction with improvements planned near milepost 111 in Chase County. That’s the point along I-35 with on and off ramps that serve cattle ranchers. If approved by the KTA board, the overlook might be constructed in spring 2015. As Sandy Kramer, director of the Chase County Chamber of Commerce, told the Lawrence Journal-World: “We would hope that this outlook would be an opportunity for people to stop, take a breath and just fully engage in what it is they’re seeing.”

Rebound in lesser prairie chicken numbers is good news

lesserprairiechickenPeople on all sides of the lesser prairie chicken fight should cheer survey results showing that the population has increased about 20 percent in a year. According to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, biologists estimated the numbers of lesser prairie chickens in parts of the five-state range at 22,415 this spring, up from 18,747 in spring 2013. That compares with the 2012 estimate of more than 30,000. The biggest recent gains, which the service linked to good rains, were seen in south-central Kansas, the northeast Texas Panhandle and northwestern Oklahoma. But the bird, which was listed as threatened in March by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is still the subject of multiple lawsuits. Kansas and Oklahoma are challenging the federal action, while environmental groups are suing because they want more federal protection of the lesser prairie chicken.

Revenue shortfalls wiping out state’s cash balance

emptypocketThe $28 million state tax revenue shortfall in June may not seem too bad compared with the April and May collections, which were $310 million less than estimates. But those two months’ shortfalls already wiped out all but about $50 million of the ending cash balance projected for this new fiscal year, which began July 1. The June shortfall cuts that ending balance in half, leaving almost no margin for error. Unless the state’s revenue collections for the next 12 months are on target, which seems unlikely, the state could quickly use up the remaining ending balance and be forced to make midyear spending cuts. Even if the state manages to squeak by this new fiscal year, there is no getting through the year after that without raising taxes or significantly cutting spending.

Norquist’s group lauds Kansas’ tax cuts

budgetcut“Kansas Tax Cuts Are Working,” declared a blog at Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. Writer Will Upton pointed to Kansas’ unemployment rate compared with Missouri’s, and especially the job growth along the border on the Kansas side. Upton seconded the Brownback administration’s contention that most of the $338 million revenue shortfall is due to federal tax policy, and said “Kansas still remains a relatively high tax state” in its region. The conclusion: “Opponents of tax reform and spending interests want to try and write an early obituary for the Kansas tax reform. Unfortunately for them, the tax cuts are working and will continue to improve the Kansas economy for years to come.” Upton didn’t mention that since the tax cuts kicked in January 2013, Kansas has trailed the nation and all neighboring states except Nebraska in job growth. Meanwhile, a review of Kansas’ tax plan and resulting budget problems by Josh Barro of the New York Times was titled, “Yes, if You Cut Taxes, You Get Less Tax Revenue.”

So they said

jordannick“We’re not happy with this at all.” – Kansas Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan (in photo), to Associated Press, when the state’s tax revenues proved to be $28 million short of projections for June and $338 million short for the fiscal year

“The Koch tax cuts give ‘bleeding Kansas’ a new meaning. You’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie (not!)” – Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, tweeting about the revenue problems under the Republican who beat him in the 2010 gubernatorial race, Sam Brownback

“I could carry a Japanese war sword on one hip, a TEC-9 on the other and an assault rifle on my back. Perfectly legal.” – Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., spokesman Mike Taylor, on the new state law preventing cities from regulating carrying of guns and knives

“We maintain that the state operates under the rule of law, and individual jurisdictions must abide by that law regardless of their personal feelings.” – Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, on the new gun law, which also opened the Capitol to concealed-carry

Health centers shocked that state halted initiative

CB060917Community health centers across the state are understandably in shock after the state unexpectedly and at the last minute halted a new health homes initiative. The Medicaid program was supposed to provide wraparound services and close case management to chronically ill low-income Kansans, the Kansas Health Institute News Service reported. The health centers had spent thousands of dollars and hired new staff to get ready. But less than 24 hours before the program was to launch on Tuesday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment sent a short e-mail saying it was indefinitely delaying the initiative. KDHE said that the network of providers was inadequate and it would re-evaluate after Jan. 1, 2015. But providers said that they aren’t sure they can afford to ramp up again or trust KDHE not to pull the plug. “I’ve lost faith it will ever happen,” said Krista Postai, chief executive of the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas.