Category Archives: Kansas 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.

Kansans for Life credits Brownback for Alito

brownbackarmsupGov. Sam Brownback welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, saying it “affirmed the right of religious freedom, one of the bedrock principles enshrined in our Constitution,” and “again rebuked a needless overreach of President Obama’s administration.” In its response to the ruling, Kansans for Life gratefully linked the opinion’s author, Justice Samuel Alito, to Brownback: “Alito’s appointment to the court would not have occurred had not our governor, then-U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, led the resistance to President Bush’s 2005 nomination of Harriet Miers to replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.” Of course, Brownback has done plenty for the anti-abortion cause as governor, too, after having said in his 2011 State of the State address: “I call on the Legislature to bring to my desk legislation that protects the unborn, establishing a culture of life in Kansas.” As of early this year, Kansas had paid private law firms more than $1 million to defend anti-abortion laws enacted under Brownback.

Roberts, Kobach doing better than Brownback

robertsmugkobachThough Gov. Sam Brownback is trailing his Democratic challenger, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, in a new poll, two other incumbents are faring better. Sen. Pat Roberts (left), R-Kan., is leading Milton Wolf in the GOP primary by 56 to 23 percent, according to a SurveyUSA poll sponsored by KSN, Channel 3. He also leads his potential Democratic opponent, Chad Taylor, 43 to 33 percent. (Of note: Taylor leads Wolf in a hypothetical general election matchup 36 to 33 percent.) Secretary of State Kris Kobach (right) leads GOP challenger Scott Morgan 61 to 29 percent, and he is ahead of Democratic challenger Jean Schodorf 47 to 41 percent. In Wichita, Schodorf leads Kobach 51 to 40 percent.

Key lawmakers lack college degrees

mortarboardKansas is consistent with the nation in that 1 in 4 of its state legislators lacks a college degree, noted Kansas City Star columnist Steve Rose. Among the non-degreed chairmen of legislative committees, Rose wrote, are Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, and Senate Committee on Financial Institutions and Insurance Chairman Rob Olson, R-Olathe. House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg, and House Minority Whip Julie Menghini, D-Pittsburg, don’t hold college degrees either. Nor does Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan. “One can be plenty smart without a college degree,” Rose wrote, but “with the inevitable budget cuts coming down the road, as our deficits explode from massive tax cuts, legislators will once again be looking to higher education to cut. That’s when I hope that our legislative leaders without four-year degrees will not deprioritize higher education, which is one of the state’s most important economic development tools.”

Estes has full confidence Kansas will pay bills

estes,ronIn a Q&A with Bloomberg.com, Kansas State Treasurer Ron Estes said he has “complete confidence that Kansas is going to pay its bills” despite last month’s downgrade by Moody’s Investors Service, and described himself as “cautiously optimistic” that the income tax cuts will work. “The plan originally was designed so that over a three- to four-year period we’d see an increase in economic activity…. We’ve got to make sure that we maintain our fiscal responsibility and don’t spend too much until we get to see how it plays out over the next year or two,” he said. Estes, former Sedgwick County treasurer, also said the state “bit the bullet” and will enable the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System to “get back to 100 percent funding” over the next two decades, including through increased individual and government contribution levels. Also, Estes said, “the tea party has been very good for the country.”

So they said

sebeliuswhite“Not a chance.” – former Obama Cabinet member Kathleen Sebelius (in photo), asked Friday whether she’d run for office again in Kansas

“I congratulate Thad Cochran on winning the Democratic primary in Mississippi.” – Milton Wolf, tea party challenger to Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., tweeting after the Mississippi senator narrowly escaped a tea party challenge

“Attn. pundits: Unlike MS, in KS voters are registered by party and legislature took steps to minimize Democrat voting in GOP primary.” – Roberts campaign manager Leroy Towns, tweeting about the same election

“I don’t think we should acquiesce to bad laws.” – Lawrence City Commissioner Terry Riordan, on the city’s refusal to repeal its concealed knife ordinance even though a new state law prohibits local bans

“Sen. Wagle is probably as honest as anybody about this.” – Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, on Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, saying a goal of the tax cuts was to force budget cuts

Wagle candid about one point of tax cuts

waglenew1The stated purpose of Gov. Sam Brownback’s income tax cuts was to kick start the economy. But if conservatives’ goal is to shrink government to the size where it can be drowned in a bathtub, as Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist has famously put it, what better way than to starve it of revenue? Credit Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, with some candor in framing the state’s looming budget problems as a plus. “The government has less money to spend. But that’s what the people want. They want more money in their pockets,” she said after state leaders approved borrowing $675 million over the next year. Asked later whether the tax cuts were meant to force spending cuts, she told the Kansas Health Institute News Service: “I can tell you that’s how I view it as a conservative Republican, yes. I think you do have to put restraints on government and on taxation and operate in the same manner as all the private businesses out there.”

Smaller drop in revenue expected, but still a concern

jordannickState Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan said this week that he expects June tax collections to be $10 million to $20 million less than projections. That’s certainly better than April and May, when collections were $310 million less than estimates. Still, because of the April and May drop, the state was already forecast to have only about $50 million in its cash reserves by the end of next fiscal year. A drop in this month’s collections will leave an even slimmer margin for error.

Wagle made good picks to education commission

school-fundingGood for Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, for appointing Ken Thiessen, principal of Wichita’s East High School, to the new K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission. Thiessen has worked for the Wichita school district since 1981 and will bring a wealth of practical experience to the commission, which will be studying ways to use state dollars to maximize student outcomes. Wagle also appointed Sam Williams, former chairman of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce – another good choice. Wagle’s picks are in sharp contrast to those of her counterpart in the Kansas House, Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, who appointed two lobbyists who are critics of public education and have pushed for private alternatives.

Kansas earns ‘F’ on protecting new parents

newbornPresident Obama called this week for paid maternity leave, saying the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world. Meanwhile, a new study gave Kansas an “F” grade on its policies (or lack thereof) to protect new parents. Kansas is among 17 states that don’t expand upon federal rights or protections, limited as they are, for new and expecting parents, according to a study by the National Partnership for Women and Families. Internationally, America ranks dead last among 38 nations for its government support for working parents, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center report. Family values?

Kobach likens moonlighting time to golf

kobach2Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is nationally known for his crusading legal work fighting illegal immigration. The question is how much time he spends on such moonlighting, which is why GOP challenger Scott Morgan demanded last week that Kobach release his income tax records. “You can’t have two professional jobs any more than you can have two spouses,” Morgan, a Lawrence attorney and businessman, told the Associated Press. Kobach said his private legal work this year has averaged 4.9 hours a week. “Playing golf as slow as I do, that’s one round of golf,” he said. But Democratic challenger Jean Schodorf tweeted: “Sec Kobach says that he has worked over 100 hours on his agenda in 2014. That’s nearly 3 weeks of full time work.” Outside the job description of his $86,000-a-year job as secretary of state, of course, Kobach also has been in the middle of contentious Kansas lawmaking on guns, Obamacare and the lesser prairie chicken.

Fiscal trends only count if they are positive?

cashGov. Sam Brownback doesn’t like it that the media are focusing on how the state’s cash balance is rapidly disappearing and that it is borrowing twice as much money this coming fiscal year as it did this year. But Brownback is the one who has pointed to these measures as evidence of the success of his policies. Brownback has repeatedly bragged in recent years about the amount of the state’s cash balances. And last year he boasted about how the state needed to borrow only $300 million to help meet cash-flow demands. If those were signs of success, why aren’t the opposite trends cause for concern?

Kansans outgunned by Legislature

concealedgunAs legislative leaders declined Thursday to do anything to stop plans to allow permit holders to concealed-carry at the Capitol as of July 1, it was noted that lawmakers already have that right. Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, estimated to the Topeka Capital-Journal that as many as 50 of 165 legislators had carried a concealed handgun into the Capitol during the past session. Meanwhile, Kansas had 80,810 active concealed-carry license holders as of last month, out of the nearly 2 million Kansans old enough (at least 21) to apply for a permit. Is it really possible that while 4 percent of Kansas adults are concealed-carry permit holders, 30 percent of state legislators are?

E-mail another sign that ‘Kansas Chamber’ means ‘Koch’

capitoldomeRep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, hasn’t elaborated on last week’s e-mail to supporters blaming an angry exchange with Koch Industries lobbyists for his failure to be among the Kansas Chamber of Commerce’s endorsements. The e-mail suggests he was punished for asking questions about the proposed repeal of the state’s renewable portfolio standard, which requires utility companies to obtain 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. Whatever happened – and Kansas Chamber CEO Mike O’Neal characterized Schwab’s link to the Koch run-in as “without merit” – Schwab had a point in questioning why think tanks but no businesses were testifying in favor of an RPS repeal and in suggesting Koch should advocate for repeal publicly. If nothing else, as Rep. Tom Moxley, R-Council Grove, told the Topeka Capital-Journal, “It just lifts the covers off the Wizard of Oz so we know the Koch family is pulling the strings in the Kansas Chamber.”

Legislature a little less hypocritical on guns

gun3It’s highly debatable whether allowing concealed-carry guns in the Statehouse will make it safer. But at least legislative leaders stopped being quite so hypocritical in deciding Thursday to allow permit holders to bring concealed guns into the Capitol, starting next month. The Legislature forced local governments to allow guns in their buildings (unless they provided cost-prohibitive security) but, until this policy change, had barred the public from bringing guns in the Capitol. Now lawmakers should allow open-carry guns in the Capitol, too. After all, there is no reason to worry, right?