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.

Kansas senators hardly the biggest spenders

monopolymanKansas Republicans Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts showed up midway through a ranking of what U.S. Senate offices cost in a year. According to data from the Sunlight Foundation, Moran’s office spent $2.6 million between April 2013 and March 2014, compared with the $2.5 million spent by Roberts’ office. The biggest spenders were California Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, who each spent more than $4 million, followed by Florida Republican Marco Rubio and Texas Republicans Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. In going over the numbers, which don’t include costs of leadership offices, the Washington Post noted that the Senate spent more than $370,000 in a year in staff costs on hairstylists and barbers.

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.

Public should be able to see election office work

lehman,tabithaThough some voters said their polling sites had been changed without notification, and there were poll book mix-ups involving the husband and son of candidate Carolyn McGinn, Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman (in photo) is due some credit for avoiding a repeat last week of the problems of 2012. But why the sudden secrecy in her office? First Lehman and county officials denied news reporters the usual access to watch the counting of votes on Election Night. Then organizers of the marijuana petition drive complained that they weren’t allowed to watch as the signatures were counted. The election office is doing essential public business, not dealing with sensitive personnel or legal issues. Maintaining public trust requires that the public, which often means the media, be able to watch the office work whenever it wants, but especially as votes and petition signatures are counted.

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.

Wall Street Journal editorial congratulates Kansas voters

pompeo2Because the incumbents all won, Kansas’ GOP primary didn’t deliver the drama that had been forecast for the congressional races by the national political media. But the Wall Street Journal editorial board hailed the victories of “spending reformers” Mike Pompeo (in photo) and Tim Huelskamp over “challenges from corporate rent-seekers. Their victories ought to give Republicans in Congress the confidence to buck crony capitalists,” the editorial board wrote. The editorial noted approvingly that both had voted against the farm bill, that Huelskamp wants to eliminate the pro-ethanol renewable fuel standard and that Pompeo wants to end all energy subsidies, also describing Todd Tiahrt as Pompeo’s “pork-barrel predecessor.” It concluded: “Congratulations to Kansas voters for rewarding principle, and we hope Republicans across the country take the message.”

GOP struggling with low favorability ratings

elephantupsidedownA new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that only 35 percent of the public has a favorable view of the GOP (49 percent for the Democratic Party). But the numbers get even worse when divided by gender, race and age. Only 33 percent of women have a favorable view of the GOP. Only 16 percent of African-Americans and 29 percent of Latinos view the GOP favorably. And among adults ages 18-29, only 31 percent view the GOP favorably. Also of note, 51 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the job that their own member of Congress is doing

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.

So they said

brewer,carl“You can’t get blood from a turnip. They don’t have it to give us.” – Mayor Carl Brewer (in photo), on a suggestion that the city seek $20 million a year from the state to help fund the Equus Beds recharge project

“He’s much funnier. I don’t try to compete with him.” – Former Sen. Bob Dole, on MSNBC, on whether he or Sen. Pat Roberts is funnier

“Is Roberts dust in the wind or will he carry on?” – Headline on a Fox News online story before last week’s primary between Sen. Pat Roberts and Milton Wolf

“Can you believe that? The next Ted Cruz is Barack Obama’s unapologetic conservative cousin.” – Wolf, in the Washington Post, visiting with Eureka voters before losing the primary

Food truck delivering meals, hope

lordsdinertruckThe Lord’s Diner thought that it could help a lot of people by stationing a food truck in the Hilltop neighborhood. It certainly is. The truck started out last month serving about 500 dinners a night. Now it plans for 900 meals. The Lord’s Diner, which is a ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, opened its downtown site in 2002. It has since added a location in the Planeview neighborhood and has another food truck at the Evergreen Recreation Center. This past spring the ministry served its 2 millionth meal. As the Hilltop truck shows, the need is still great.

How would sales-tax and pot questions affect each other?

marijuanaWhile failing to persuade his former colleagues on the Wichita City Council to postpone the city sales tax vote until after the spring municipal election, state Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, suggested that its passage would be especially unlikely in November if the marijuana referendum also made that ballot. “I don’t believe many of those supporters are going to be supporting a sales tax,” O’Donnell said. The marijuana question seemed doomed by Friday, with the petition short of the needed registered voters’ signatures. But supporters said they would urge the council to put the question to voters anyway. The confluence of those ballot questions in Wichita, along with a competitive gubernatorial race, could make for a larger local turnout and unpredictable outcomes.

Huelskamp not chastened by close election

huelskamp,timAfter not having been endorsed by the state’s largest agriculture organizations, and after a virtually unknown opponent won 45 percent of the vote in the GOP primary Tuesday, you might think that U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, would be a little chastened. You might think he would commit himself to becoming a productive member of Congress. But no. Huelskamp lashed out Wednesday against “a shadowy, out-of-state super PAC” that smeared his reputation, and said that he “will not be bullied.” That’s been Huelskamp’s pattern: Blame others for his own failings, then double down on those failings.

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.”

Avoid more tragedies by securing loads

fatalaccidentHow tragic that 61-year-old Larry W. Dobbs, a former Winfield police chief, lost his life Monday while trying to do the good deed of picking up Sheetrock that had flown off the back of another person’s pickup truck on K-96, where Dobbs was struck by a semi truck. As the community keeps Dobbs’ family in its thoughts and prayers, the incident underscores how crucial it is for drivers to secure whatever they are hauling in their trucks or trailers so that roadways are clear of debris.

Long-term federal debt forecast is frightening

BudgetDeficitThe declining federal budget deficit is encouraging, but long-term forecasts show spending mushrooming to unsustainable levels. A report released recently by the Congressional Budget Office projects debt rising continuously after 2017. Assuming that policymakers allow temporary spending and tax-cut provisions to expire and do not further increase deficits (which is highly unlikely), debt will rise from 74 percent of gross domestic product in 2014 to 108 percent by 2040, 147 percent by 2060, and 212 percent by 2085, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget noted. If policymakers don’t act responsibly (which is much more likely), debt could increase to 170 percent of GDP by 2040 and keep climbing. An aging population, rising health care costs and rising interest payments are driving the debt projections. “There are no gimmicks to get around the demographics,” warned Robert L. Bixby, executive director on the nonpartisan Concord Coalition.

Dubious, bogus and utterly phony headlines

SPOOFSLOGOThe following satirical headlines come from borowitzreport.com and theonion.com:

Furious at Being Called Crazies, Republicans Sue President

Congress Blocks Obama’s Attempt to Order New Office Supplies

ExxonMobil, Chevron Locked in Bidding War to Acquire Lucrative Pennsylvania Senator

Hillary Clinton Spends Busy Day Fueling Speculation, Not Ruling Things Out

New Study Finds Running for 20 Minutes Each Day Could Add Years of Soreness to Life

ALEC now has offshoot focused on cities, counties

notaxes“The corporate lobbying network American Legislative Exchange Council, commonly known as ALEC, is seeking to extend its brand of aggressive privatization and tax cuts to the local level,” the Guardian newspaper reported. While ALEC is focused at the state level, the new offshoot organization, the American City County Exchange, will be focused on cities and counties. Here is a hint that the organizations will share the same goals: Seminar topics at the ACCE convention last week in Dallas included privatization and “releasing local governments from the grip of collective bargaining.”

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.

So they said

brownbackhandout“I don’t know anybody who hires a new coach or CEO and says, ‘Go ahead and keep managing the slow decline. Just don’t make it hurt too much.’ They hire someone to get it going the right way, and that’s what we’re doing.” – Gov. Sam Brownback (in photo), talking fiscal strategy in the Los Angeles Times

“I wish I could take that back, because I don’t consider this an experiment. So many people on the left really want this to fail.” – Brownback again, in a Washington Post article about what he had called Kansas’ “real live experiment”

“This effort to starve state government is now pressuring school governments, and the social service agencies are having a much tougher time. It just seems that he has this objective without understanding the consequences or caring about the consequences.” – Reno County Commissioner Brad Dillon, a former Brownback supporter now backing Paul Davis, also in the Post article

“What do guns have to do with the (insurance) department?” – Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, in the Topeka Capital-Journal, about the “100 percent pro-gun” language turning up in ads of GOP candidates vying to replace her

Tax-collection news good, but shortfall still looming

taxrevenueIt’s a relief that the state’s tax collections for July came in on target, breaking a three-month streak of big shortfalls. The state collected $408.6 million in taxes last month, which was $1.6 million, or 0.4 percent, more than estimated. Over the three previous months the state had collected $334 million less than expected. Though the turnaround is good news, the state is still facing major budget problems. Even if tax revenues over the next 11 months meet the estimates, the state will use up nearly all of its cash reserves this fiscal year and will face a large budget shortfall next fiscal year.