Category Archives: Kansas government

Nugent calls Kobach a ‘dear pig killin friend’

nugenttedRight-wing rocker Ted Nugent (in photo) used Facebook this week to make a campaign money pitch for Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, pairing his endorsement with a photo of the two taken, Nugent said, when they were “hunting hogs together in Texas just before we rallied to legalize helicopter pig hunting!” Nugent called Kobach “a major thorn in the side of Obama” who is “leading the states’ rights movement in America” and said “the leftists and commies are working overtime to defeat him in this year’s election.” In response to the post, Kobach’s challenger in the GOP primary, Scott Morgan, suggested “the self-appointed ‘guardian of state sovereignty’” should “start focusing on his job in Kansas.” (According to the Lawrence Journal-World, Kobach said feral hogs do significant damage to crops and that he worked in his spare time to help Nugent and Texas officials in 2011 with the legislation.) State Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, responded to the photo on Twitter with “SEPARATED AT BIRTH…?!”

Here come ripple effects of mortgage fee repeal

taxrevenueThe proponents of phasing out the mortgage registration fee prevailed at the Statehouse, dismissing concerns about what the move would do to local governments’ budgets or delivery of services. But Sedgwick County got a glimpse of the consequences Wednesday, as Register of Deeds Bill Meek announced his office will no longer handle passports and also asked county commissioners for one or two more staffers to deal with the next five years of mortgage-filing confusion. Plus, the county must prepare for the loss of an estimated $2 million to $3.7 million a year of mortgage registration fees by 2019, after losing $59 million in revenue due to state reductions since 2009. The banking and real estate lobbies had a point about the unfairness of the fee, but legislators and the governor were awfully quick to take the drastic action of a repeal – and too dismissive of the likely local reaction.

Brownback shows no interest in Medicaid expansion

doctoroutThough Gov. Sam Brownback says he hasn’t decided yet whether to allow a federal expansion of Medicaid, his comments sound like he has no interest in it. During a recent interview with the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., Brownback said that “Obamacare is not working and it is not going to work.” He also scoffed at the federal government’s promise to cover all of the costs of expansion for the first three years and a minimum of 90 percent after that. “They’re going to up our percent,” he said. Nor did Brownback show interest in alternative models of expansion being pursued by other red states.

Time likely running out on Kansas’ gay-marriage ban

gayweddingcakeWhat is most striking about all the recent court decisions striking down state bans on gay marriage is the diversity of judges and states. Since last June, 13 judges in red and blue states have either overturned bans on gay marriage or ordered states to recognize gay marriages from other states, the Sunday Eagle reported. Opponents of gay marriage have tried to blame these decisions on “activist judges.” But as Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, noted, “judges of all backgrounds and political affiliations are striking down these state-level bans.” It’s likely only a matter of time before Kansas’ ban is struck down, too.

Gabel group succeeds in getting negative attention

gabelKansans for Liberty wasn’t very successful in recruiting candidates to run against “pretend Republicans” in the GOP primary in August. But the tea party group spearheaded by Craig Gabel (in photo) of Wichita was successful at getting negative attention. Articles and editorials appeared in state newspapers on how the group was targeting moderate GOP state lawmakers who didn’t vote the way it wanted on issues such as education standards, guns and renewable energy. A Hutchinson News editorial said that “Kansans for Liberty apparently can’t stand the idea that a handful of Kansas lawmakers exists who won’t fall in lockstep with its ideal Kansas, where everyone thinks, acts and behaves exactly the same.” A Garden City Telegram editorial said that “any Statehouse candidates interested in pitching Kansans for Liberty’s radical agenda cannot be taken seriously.”

Kansas’ reliance on coal power could cost it

coalplantholcombOf the 50 states, Kansas generates the 11th-highest percentage of its electricity from coal, or 63 percent as of March, according to the Washington Post. As a result, Kansas could be affected more than most states by proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules limiting carbon output from existing coal-fired power plants. West Virginia has the highest reliance on coal, at 95 percent; Idaho has the lowest reliance, at zero percent (78 percent of its electricity comes from hydroelectric power). Nineteen states get more than half their electricity from coal-fired plants. According to the EPA proposal, Kansas’ goal would be to cut emissions 23 percent by 2030.

Kansas losing out on millions in Medicaid funding

medicaidRep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, was one of the speakers at a Friday rally at the Statehouse in Topeka supporting a federal expansion of Medicaid in Kansas. Not only have Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature refused to allow an expansion, but GOP legislative leaders wouldn’t even allow Ward to have a hearing on the issue this past session. “That is wrong,” Ward said. “This is the place where we have those discussions.” The federal government would pay the entire cost of expansion for the first three years and nearly all the cost after that. By not expanding, Kansas has lost out on about $164 million in federal funding since Jan. 1, according to the Kansas Medicaid Access Coalition.

Data favors a second Brownback term

bbackoathGov. Sam Brownback has a strong 78 percent chance of winning re-election in November, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis of early polling in all 36 gubernatorial elections and the accuracy of such polling data since 2006. Republicans currently hold 29 governorships, and the site’s Harry Enten concluded that “Republicans are favorites to hold most Republican seats, and Democrats are likely to hold most Democratic seats.”

Kansas ‘renaissance’ looks more like dark ages

brownbackcampaignOne day before the state reported that its tax collections for May were a stunning $217 million less than expected, Gov. Sam Brownback had a commentary in the Wall Street Journal headlined, “A Midwest Renaissance Rooted in the Reagan Formula.” Brownback summarized the state’s income tax cuts on his watch and touted the business formations, unemployment rate and private-sector job growth, also giving a nod to neighboring states’ recent tax cuts. “Kansas and its neighbors in Missouri and Oklahoma are charting a course based on a vision of lower taxes and leaner governments leading to a more prosperous citizenry,” he wrote. On Thursday the governor delivered a similar message at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. Asked by the Hill about the decision of Moody’s Investors Service to downgrade the state’s credit rating over fiscal concerns in the state, Brownback said: “They’ve been downgrading a lot of states.” Actually, Moody’s has downgraded only three states in the past year: Illinois in June 2013, Kansas in April and New Jersey last month.

Lobbyist spending up 25 percent this past session

capitolSpending on official lobbying in Kansas topped $1 million during January through April, according to a new report by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. That’s 25 percent more than was spent during the 2013 legislative session. Americans for Prosperity was by far the biggest spender at $386,853 (mostly on advertising opposing the state’s renewable energy standards). The next two highest spenders were Wind Works for Kansas (supporting the energy standards) at $43,686 and the Kansas Senior Consumer Alliance (opposing the standards) at $40,470. Other groups that topped $10,000 in spending included Dillons ($23,125), the Kansas Bankers Association ($20,974), Uncork Kansas ($20,414), the Kansas Beer Wholesalers Association ($19,696), the Wind Coalition ($15,623), the Kansas State Council of Firefighters ($10,534) and the Kansas Credit Union Association ($10,026).

Guns still unwelcome at Riverfest

gun3Because much of the Wichita River Festival is held on city-owned property, the new state law preventing local governments from restricting open carry of firearms might seem to conflict with a rule in the event brochure: “Don’t bring weapons of any kind to the festival. The festival footprint is not a legal ‘conceal and carry’ or open-carry area.” But according to the city’s legal department, the festival grounds are controlled by private Wichita Festivals Inc., not the city. “They can establish the appropriate rules of conduct, which would include no open carry,” chief deputy city attorney Sharon Dickgrafe said in an e-mail. “However, they will have to enforce these provisions through their private security.” She added that Wichita Police Department officers “cannot be involved in enforcing regulations that exceed state law.” Though reassuring for many, the continuing gun-free policy surely will rankle those who think the right to carry shouldn’t be curbed anywhere for any reason. The new state law, by the way, goes into effect July 1.

Big spenders didn’t prevail on renewable energy standards

turbinewindmillSupporters of renewable energy standards were outspent about 10-to-1 during this past legislative session, yet they were able to fend off six attempts to remove the standards, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Three groups backing the standards spent $62,040, according to a new report by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. In comparison, two groups that opposed the standards – the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Senior Consumer Alliance (which has ties to AFP) – spent $386,853 and $40,470, respectively, mostly on mass media advertising.

Voters have until July 1 to switch parties

Recall ElectionLast week Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach reminded wannabe candidates for national, state, county and township offices that they must file by noon June 2 for the upcoming elections (though independent candidates have until noon Aug. 4 to file by petition). “Kansans who wish to serve their community by running for elective office need to be aware of this important deadline,” Kobach said in a statement. This year there’s another key date for Kansas voters – July 1, which is the newly accelerated deadline for changing party affiliation in advance of the Aug. 5 primary. In future election years, the party-switching cutoff will be even earlier, June 1. The deadline to register to vote is July 15 (don’t forget your proof of citizenship). Unaffiliated voters can still pick a party on primary day.

So they said

robertsmug“Maybe the Kochs are to blame for the planes lost in the Bermuda Triangle. How about the volcanic eruption at Pompeii years back? Even, Mr. President, the futility of the Chicago Cubs.” – Sen. Pat Roberts (in photo), R-Kan., on the Senate floor last week, blasting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for pointing figures at the Koch brothers for climate change and California wildfires

“I kept hoping that the governor would eventually see the rationale behind getting those federal dollars. Those are our tax dollars that are going to Washington that are going to other states that are expanding coverage.” – Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, lamenting Gov. Sam Brownback’s refusal to expand Medicaid as MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes” examined Kansas’ sharp right turn

“It never surprises me that the most active governors have a dip in their popularity as their opponents go nuts.” – Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist, in an Associated Press article about Brownback’s low approval ratings and re-election bid

“You serve food with integrity? How about serving people with integrity?” – Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, tweeting about Chipotle Mexican Grill having asked its customers not to bring guns into its restaurants, which Huelskamp also said showed Chipotle’s “disdain for the 2nd Amendment”

Kansas didn’t anticipate tax revenue drop

taxrevenueKansas isn’t the only state that saw a big drop in tax revenue in April compared with the previous year. Personal income tax collections declined in 27 of 32 states for which Reuters was able to collect data. Many of those states anticipated the revenue drop. “But there is also New Jersey. There is also Kansas, Pennsylvania,” Lucy Dadayan, a senior policy analyst at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, told Reuters. “Their projections are more optimistic than the reality. They either have to cut services – have to cut on the spending side – or raise taxes.”

Kansas ranks low in legislative pay

capitoldomeA recent proposal by Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, to more than double state legislators’ pay generated criticism and little interest. But an analysis by Stateline, a service of the Pew Charitable Trusts, found that only eight states pay state lawmakers less than Kansas does ($7,979 base salary during the 90-day session, plus off-session pay for a total $14,708 a year). At the bottom of the pay scale is New Mexico, which pays $150 a day during the session with no base salary. The big spender is California, where legislators get a base salary of more than $90,000.

Kobach fires back at conflict-of-interest criticism

kobach2Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach fired back at criticism that he misused his public office for personal gain in championing a state law last year that says firearms that are made in Kansas and remain in Kansas are free from federal regulation. Kobach co-wrote the Second Amendment Protection Act and testified in support of it. The law took effect in April 2013, and in August 2013, Kobach filed articles of incorporation for Minuteman Defense LLC, a Kansas company hoping to manufacture firearms. Kobach’s financial disclosure form lists him as a shareholder in Minuteman Defense. Kobach argues that there was no conflict of interest or other impropriety. “I had no idea in March that I’d get the opportunity to help a new Kansas gun company get off the ground later in the year,” he wrote in a commentary in the Hutchinson News.

Brownback campaign a ‘man-bites-dog story’

brownbackofficialmugGov. Sam Brownback’s difficult re-election campaign is a compelling story because Kansas is such a red state and this is shaping up to be a big year for Republicans nationally, Jeff Roe, a GOP consultant based in Kansas City, told National Public Radio. “It’s a man-bites-dog story – can a Republican lose in Kansas?” Roe said. But Roe thinks that Brownback will pull away in the end and cruise to victory. “This is going to be a fun race to watch in May and June,” Roe said, “and a real boring one to watch in October and November.”

Board of Regents made Kansas look anti-free speech

twitterAs troubling as the Kansas Board of Regents’ insistence on making tweeting a firing offense was the regents’ failure last week to understand the threat their actions posed to academic freedom, not to mention the state’s reputation. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s Will Creeley told National Public Radio that Kansas universities now have one of the most restrictive social media policies in the nation. Kansas State University English professor Philip Nel said: “We already have a reputation of being anti-science; now we have a reputation of being anti-free speech.” Yet regents board chairman Fred Logan said: “I think this is good public policy,” emphasizing that the regents had added language to the policy emphasizing the importance of academic freedom. “What they don’t say, of course,” Nel later wrote on his blog, “is that they’re merely stapling language affirming academic freedom onto a policy that revokes academic freedom.”

Kansas less reliant on federal money than its neighbors

money-bagIf Kansas is lagging its neighboring states in some unflattering ways, such as in job growth, it can take pride in bringing up the rear in the region in the federal aid received as a percentage of state general revenue. Using 2012 data, the Tax Foundation last week ranked Kansas 43rd among states in how much it relies on federal aid, with its 27 percent making it look less needy than No. 5 Missouri (41 percent), No. 14 Oklahoma (36 percent), No. 21 Nebraska (35 percent) and No. 37 Colorado (29 percent). Alaska’s 20 percent landed it at the bottom, while Mississippi’s 46 percent topped the list.

Do state taxes matter in relocations?

proptax“Differences in tax levels among states have little to no effect on whether and where people move, contrary to claims by some conservative economists and elected officials,” according to a new report by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. It found that most people who move between states do so because of climate or employment opportunities, not because of state taxes. In fact, it found that people are nearly as likely to move from low-tax states to high-tax states – and in some cases more so. Though factors such as weather, jobs and family are more important in most relocation decisions, the right-leaning Tax Foundation counters that “taxes matter on the margin.” It also argues that the “slow and steady process by which better tax policies support stronger economic growth will likely promote higher job growth and, in turn, more inward migration.”

State keeps dumping on local governments

merrick_ray

Correction: An e-mail that House Speaker Ray Merrick wrote about the phaseout of the mortgage registration fee was focused on Johnson County only, not all county governments.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, had some nerve to say that “there is no need” for county governments to increase their mill levies due to the phaseout of the mortgage-registration fee on homebuyers. The state has been dumping on local governments for years, imposing and then underfunding mandates and eliminating revenue-sharing programs. Sedgwick County spends about $150 million per year to provide services mandated by the state, yet receives only about 15 percent of the funding needed to pay for these services. The county also has lost about $59 million in revenue since 2009 because of state actions. It estimates that the loss of mortgage-registration fees will cost it as much as $3.7 million when fully implemented. Instead of lecturing and off-loading on local governments, the state needs to support them.

So they said

bbackmug“Kansas is, at last, escaping the economic death spiral it had been in. My ‘Road Map for Kansas’ is working.” – Gov. Sam Brownback (in photo), in the fundraising letter in which he misstated dates regarding the state’s finances and referred to Democratic opponent Paul Davis (in boldface type) as “a liberal lawyer from Lawrence who was a two-time delegate for Barack Obama”

“Kansas is the most changed state in America.” – Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, touting the administration’s economic, education and pro-life records at a Saline County Republican candidate forum

“Most good things that last are bipartisan.” – former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, to Kansas Public Radio, about working with Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy to pass the Americans With Disabilities Act

“I’d love to have a magic wand to bring some of your sanity back to Washington. You are missed.” – former Democratic Gov. John Carlin, visiting with Dole in Salina on Tuesday

“Probably the best thing we did this spring was we got out of town after 79 days.” – Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, on the legislative session

“It was amazing how hardheaded those folks were. They just couldn’t accept the fact that they got beat.” – Hineman again, on opponents of renewable energy standards

State funding of universities falls short

collegetuitionStudents and legislators had to be unhappy to see all six state universities request higher tuition rates and fees, a Friday Eagle editorial observed. But as students and their parents go looking for more cash, irked lawmakers should look in the mirror. Current state funding of the regents system is far short of its pre-recession levels.

Brownback’s cash-reserves claim not the full story

cashSam Brownback loves to mention, as he did in a campaign fundraising letter this month, that the state had only $876 in the bank when he became governor, and that it now has hundreds of millions of dollars in cash reserves. But as Eagle reporter Bryan Lowry noted, the $876 was actually the balance on the last day of the fiscal year six months before Brownback was sworn in. And a main reason why the reserves rebounded was that Brownback’s predecessor, former Gov. Mark Parkinson, and the Legislature approved a temporary sales tax increase. What’s more, Brownback opposed that sales tax increase when he campaigned for governor. But after he was elected, he opposed revoking it and convinced the Legislature to make part of the increase permanent. And if the size of the cash balance is the measure of fiscal responsibility, shouldn’t Kansans be concerned that the balance is dropping rapidly because of state income tax cuts (which Brownback also fails to mention)?