Category Archives: Kansas government

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

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.

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.

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?

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.

USD 259 might not get much help from funding fix

schoolmoneyUnless the Legislature changes the rules somehow, many school districts, including Wichita, won’t get much budget help even if the state complies with the Kansas Supreme Court order to equalize school funding. That’s because most of the increased state funding would go to supplement local option budgets. And because the LOB total is capped, all that would change is how this total is divided between the state and districts. So, for example, if the state fully funded its share of Wichita’s LOB next fiscal year, it would pay an additional $11.9 million, according to Kansas State Department of Education estimates. But because Wichita’s LOB is at the cap and can’t increase, Wichita would have to reduce its local property taxes by $11.9 million to offset the state money. That’s good for homeowners but doesn’t help USD 259 pay its bills. Wichita would received $3.5 million in capital outlay aid if the state equalized that funding, and it has the potential to increase that budget. But that is a relatively small funding increase for a district Wichita’s size, and the money could be used only on capital projects, not for teacher salaries.

So they said

kobach“Beating the #Obama administration one lawsuit at a time.” – Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (in photo), tweeting about his win in federal court in Wichita defending the Kansas and Arizona proof-of-citizenship voter laws

“#ObamaScare is just like a screaming four-year-old no one wants to #play with.” – U.S. Rep Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, on Twitter

“If you don’t pay taxes, don’t expect stuff. And by the way, if you don’t pay taxes and don’t vote, don’t expect anybody to pay any attention to your complaining.” – Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, talking about the state’s coming budget problems at a Garden City legislative forum

“For those children that do slide by and do not get the benefit of financial literacy training, we set them up on a glide path straight to jail, prison and possibly worse.” – Rep. John Bradford, R-Lansing, before the House passed a bill encouraging such training

“I think I’ve just heard it all now: If you don’t have financial literacy, you’re going to jail.” – Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, in response

“If we’re going to make kids do something, let’s make kids do something that really is good.” – Rep. Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis, on his amendment adding handshake training to the financial literacy bill

Pro-con on Kansas-Arizona voter-registration ruling

votingaug12In a big victory for election integrity, Arizona and Kansas – led by their secretaries of state, Ken Bennett and Kris Kobach – have obtained an order from a federal judge allowing them to enforce their proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration. In a decision issued on March 19, Judge Eric Melgren of the federal district court of Kansas found that the refusal of federal election authorities to add state-specific instructions to the federal voter-registration form notifying residents of Arizona and Kansas that they have to provide proof that they are U.S. citizens to complete their registration is “unlawful and in excess of its statutory authority.” This is a huge loss for the Obama administration, as well as liberal advocacy groups that apparently want to make it easy for noncitizens to illegally register and vote in our elections. There is no question that is happening – there have been numerous cases all over the country. This decision should provide momentum to other states seeking to pass a similar requirement. For anyone interested in ensuring the integrity of our election process, this was a commonsense decision. – Hans A. von Spakovsky, National Review

Republican lawmakers who work to impose higher bars to voting – either through proof-of-citizenship or voter ID laws – are well aware that many of those otherwise-eligible voters who struggle to come up with the required documents, which include a birth certificate, passport or driver’s license, are more likely to vote Democratic. In recent months, it seemed that judges were beginning to see through the pretense of such laws, whose proponents insist they are necessary to protect “election integrity” despite the lack of any significant evidence that voter fraud of any kind exists. Nevertheless, Judge Melgren accepted at face value the claim by Kansas and Arizona that only “concrete proof of citizenship” can allow them to determine whether a voter is eligible. Republican-controlled state legislatures could respond to their aging, shrinking voter base by appealing to a wider range of voters. Instead, they write off entire segments of the public and then try to keep them from the polls, under the guise of battling fraud and illegal immigration. The courts have more than enough evidence by now, and they should see this ruse for what it is. – New York Times

Was court’s school ruling good news for other states?

schoolhaAn Investor’s Business Daily editorial greeted the Kansas Supreme Court’s recent ruling on school finance with a “Hallelujah!” because it said the touchstone for determining adequacy of funding wasn’t total spending but when students “meet or exceed the standards set out” under state law. “What a concept: School performance shouldn’t be based on the inputs – i.e., money – but the actual academic results,” the editorial argued. “This is, of course, how most every other industry measures progress. In private industry the goal is to do more with less. But in education we have been operating under the opposite mind-set: Do less with more money. Maybe that’s why schools are failing. They’re looking at the wrong metrics. Hopefully the courts in other states will take the logic of this latest Kansas decision to heart.”

More school meddling: Teach how to shake hands

handshakeRep. Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis, said he was being “somewhat facetious” when he proposed that public schools teach students how to shake hands properly. But the House overwhelmingly passed his amendment this week. “It seems like every time there’s an ill that’s in society we’re going to find some way to make schools do a better job,” said Cassidy, a former school principal. “I sort of have frustration with that on occasion.” What’s next – mandating that boys learn how to tie a tie?

About half of eligible Kansans picked insurance plan

healthcaregovpageAs of March 1, about 29,000 Kansans had selected a private insurance plan on the health care marketplace – not quite half of the 65,000 Kansans who are eligible, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. An additional 10,000 Kansans who went on the marketplace were determined to be eligible for Medicaid. If Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature allowed a federal expansion of Medicaid, about 150,000 additional Kansans would qualify for health insurance.

KPI advises Legislature to act swiftly on school equity

schoolc4The Kansas Policy Institute, a free-market think tank, is advising state lawmakers to pay what’s required to equalize state education funding, per the Kansas Supreme Court’s recent ruling. “The equity issues should be swiftly and cleanly resolved,” KPI president Dave Trabert wrote in a commentary. “We encourage legislators to avoid temptation to ‘tinker’ with the current formula to find the equity money, even though the Supreme Court says that that is one option available.” Whether the state is adequately funding public education is still unresolved, as the Supreme Court ordered a three-judge panel to evaluate funding based on educational outcomes. On that issue, Trabert is urging the Legislature to take its time and determine adequate funding “in a thoughtful, deliberative process.”

Credit-rating agency raises concerns about state finances

cashMoody’s Investors Service is raising concerns about Kansas’ ability to pay its debts. The credit-rating agency considers the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision in the school-finance case a “credit negative” because “the mandated increase will pressure state finances that are already stressed by revenue losses from income tax cuts.” A spokeswoman for Gov. Sam Brownback downplayed the Moody’s report, noting that Kansas still has a strong bond rating. But John Robb, a Newton attorney who represents the plaintiffs in the school-funding case, said there is reason to worry about state finances. “The grand experiment better ramp up in the next three years, or we’re going to have a train wreck,” he said. “Moody’s appears to recognize that.”

Knox’s do-it-yourself deterrence of metal theft

mcginncarolyn2Before the Senate Judiciary Committee decided Friday to ask the Kansas Judicial Council to study how to fight metal thefts, Sen. Carolyn McGinn (in photo), R-Sedgwick, noted that she and her husband had been the victim of thieves who did $5,000 of damage to their center pivot irrigation system while stealing $500 worth of copper. Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, questioned whether more government was needed to counter metal thefts. “Mr. McGinn with a shotgun may be the way to go,” Knox said. McGinn’s response: “It’s usually Mrs. McGinn with her daddy’s shotgun in her hand.” Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett and the city of Wichita had supported Senate Bill 418, which would create a centralized reporting system of metal sales to include photos of the seller and product.

State tax cuts not effective, say former lt. governors

taxcalcFormer Kansas Lt. Govs. Gary Sherrer and John Moore, who also both served as Kansas secretaries of commerce, are challenging the value and effectiveness of Gov. Sam Brownback’s state income-tax cuts. In a commentary published in some state newspapers, they noted that the state’s job-growth rate is significantly below the rates of surrounding states, which didn’t cut their taxes. They also contended that state income taxes aren’t a major factor in a business’ decision to relocate. “In the 12 years we recruited businesses to come to Kansas, the subject of state income tax was never raised,” they wrote. What’s more important to economic growth, they argued, are investments in education and highways, both of which have been cut by Brownback and the Legislature.

Legal cost of anti-abortion laws keeps climbing

gavelThe state’s legal cost of defending recent anti-abortion laws has now topped $1 million. Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office has paid more than $612,000 to the Lawrence firm of Thompson, Ramsdell and Qualseth and more than $418,000 to the Wichita firm of Foulston Siefkin. Lawmakers were warned that the laws likely were unconstitutional, but they passed them (and Gov. Sam Brownback signed them) anyway.

KDHE quietly approved massive hog-farm expansion

seaboardhogsGiven all the controversy, debate and public hearings in the late 1990s and early 2000s about corporate hog farming, it was stunning how quietly the Kansas Department of Health and Environment approved a massive expansion of a Seaboard Foods hog-feeding operation in western Kansas. The permit was signed on Feb. 26 but wasn’t public until last week, when the Sierra Club sent out a news release criticizing the state’s approval, Associated Press reported. With the expansion, the facility in Greeley County will become the nation’s second-largest hog-feeding operation, according to the Sierra Club, and will generate roughly twice as much waste as the city of Wichita. Concerns about corporate hog farms haven’t changed: pollution, overwhelming smell and depletion of water supply.

So they said

bbackmug“I’m hoping the championship game is between two Kansas teams, and then I’m debating on what I’ll bet myself at that time.” – Gov. Sam Brownback (in photo), after explaining his WuShock pin to

“They’re grinders. They’re hard workers. They’re scrappy and they’re fighters with big hearts. They reflect our town and the best of America and we love them. Godspeed to them. Go, Shox.” – Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, in a speech praising the WSU men’s basketball team on the House floor

“They’re American…. I wish Harry Reid would do his job of running the Senate.” – Brownback again, when asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s criticism of the Koch brothers as un-American

Let locals control timing of local elections

votingboothAt least a Kansas Senate committee decided against placing municipal and school board elections on the same ballot as state and federal elections. But in voting to move local elections from the spring to August and November of odd-numbered years, the Senate panel dismissed the wishes of local officials, who overwhelmingly oppose the change. Why is this the Legislature’s concern? What happened to local control?

Fitness clubs unlikely to get tax break

taxrevenueA bill to grant property-tax exemptions to fitness clubs appears dead this session. The House Taxation Committee tabled Senate Bill 72 and doesn’t intend to take it up again, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. The bill was promoted by Rodney Steven, president of Genesis Health Clubs in Wichita, as a way to level the playing field with nonprofits like the YMCA. Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, who chairs the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee, agreed with the decision to table the bill. Instead of granting new tax exemptions, Donovan favors stripping YMCAs of their sales-tax exemption on memberships. “That’s a much cleaner, more reasonable approach,” he said.

Constituents aren’t supposed to be on Senate floor

arnold,kellySenate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, questioned why Kansas Republican Party chairman Kelly Arnold (in photo) was present for the Senate’s debate on a bill to prevent pre-primary party switching. Arnold, who is also Sedgwick County clerk, told The Eagle: “I think it’s appropriate for any constituent that wants to see the legislative process to be on the Senate floor.” Actually, Senate rules dictate that someone like Arnold (who isn’t a legislator or legislative employee, elective state officer, former senator or card-carrying media member) should only be on the floor by signed invitation of a senator and the Senate president. It also says anyone violating the rule shall be ejected from the chamber and “thereafter be denied admission.” Visitors are supposed to stay in the galleries.

On KU’s needs, Masterson thinks he knows best

candidateNo one disputes the need for more physicians in Kansas, which ranks 39th among states for doctors per capita. And University of Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and others repeatedly have told lawmakers that a new $75 million health education building is necessary to train more physicians and maintain accreditation. Yet on Tuesday the Senate Ways and Means Committee declined to give KU what it needs to get the building under construction and open in 2017 – access to a $25 million FICA refund and $1.4 million annually from the state to help retire $15 million in bonds. (The rest of the money would be raised privately.) Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, seems to think he knows better than KU what KU needs. “I don’t feel the accreditation is in jeopardy,” he told the Lawrence Journal-World. He also said: “It’s just prioritization. If they want to prioritize the accreditation as a project, they have the resources to do that.”

Brownback points to welfare cuts with pride

brownbackofficialmugAsked by about being criticized for hurting social services as well as education during his administration, Gov. Sam Brownback said: “What we have done here is really try to encourage work in these programs. So we’ve required people to apply to work if they’re able-bodied. And that’s reduced some of the number of people on social services. But I think most people agree that the way out of poverty isn’t a pittance from the government. It’s work, it’s education, it’s family stability. Those are the real ways out.” According to a December report by the United Community Services of Johnson County, Kansas’ Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program dropped from a monthly average of 38,963 in fiscal 2011 to 21,887 in fiscal 2013. This drop occurred during the same time the number of Kansans living in poverty was increasing.