- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Kansas City Star, July 1

Kansas closed the books on another dreadful fiscal year Thursday. And when the numbers were released Friday, the damage was startling.

Just to balance the budget, the state had to withhold $260 million from public schools until next week. And grab every sales tax dollar it could find from the highway fund. And take money from the Children’s Initiatives Fund and Department of Corrections.

Why is this happening? Why can’t Kansas collect enough revenue to provide the sound, basic public services that 3 million residents deserve?

Because of the income tax cuts Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature approved in 2012. Put another way, this state of fiscal hell was created by its own inept political leaders.

- In the 2013 fiscal year, Kansas took in $2.93 billion in individual income tax revenue. Just three years later, that figure had plummeted to $2.25 billion.

That’s a hefty loss of $680 million a year in income taxes.

- In the 2013 fiscal year, Kansas collected $6.33 billion in total tax revenue. But the number released Friday had plunged to $5.76 billion.

Overall, that’s $570 million less in total taxes than three years earlier.

So to be crystal clear, the income tax cuts are causing the massive budget woes in Kansas.

They overshadow all the spending reductions the Legislature has tried to put in place. They easily overwhelm the $224 million created by higher sales and cigarette taxes in the last year after the Legislature approved the largest tax increase in state history in 2015.

Every Kansan with a lick of common sense can see what’s happening. And most know the solution: Repeal the tax cuts, including the incredibly unfair decision to wipe out income taxes for 330,000 LLCs, a gift of more than $200 million a year to them.

Yet Brownback and the Republican-controlled Legislature have refused to do anything except trot out wimpy excuse after excuse for the shortfalls.

To keep the costly tax cuts in place, Brownback and state officials have diverted more than $1 billion from highway repairs, sliced tens of millions in funds for universities, delayed a nearly $100 million payment for public employee pensions and imposed across-the-board cuts on state agencies.

It’s time for change in Kansas. It’s time to get rid of the extremist GOP lawmakers who rubber-stamp Brownback’s destructive financial decisions.

Locally, Johnson County voters in about a dozen Aug. 2 GOP primaries should select more traditional, more moderate Republicans to have a chance to serve in Topeka.

But the ultraconservatives who have created the state’s financial chaos want to keep power. If that happens, Kansas will remain on the road to ruin.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 2

The time has come. The Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs must stop dragging their feet. They must own up to the serious chemical and radioactive hazards that U.S. service members were exposed to in the line of duty. It’s not as if the health damage from such exposure expires once the mission is over.

As Arla Harrell can attest, a lifetime of suffering can follow an irresponsible sergeant’s or young lieutenant’s order to step forward and serve as a test dummy for a chemical munition.

In Harrell’s case, it was a mustard gas test conducted at Missouri’s Camp Crowder in the 1940s. Despite the best efforts of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to get legislation passed to help make Harrell and other service members whole, the Veterans Administration is fighting her.

There’s a troubling pattern here. For tens of thousands of Vietnam War veterans, not to mention scores who trained in Panama, Agent Orange is the culprit for enduring problems caused by highly toxic dioxin. The VA continues to drag its feet on Agent Orange exposure claims, veterans say.

Thousands of veterans from the 1991 Persian Gulf War suffered debilitating health effects believed to result from chemical exposure in Kuwait and southern Iraq, and from reactions to untested vaccines administered to protect them from potential exposure to biological agents. The VA denied for years that Gulf War duty was the culprit.

The New York Times reported on June 20 that the Air Force doesn’t want to acknowledge responsibility for radiation exposure from cleanup of a 1966 crash in Spain of a B-52 bomber loaded with four nuclear bombs. The nuclear parts of the bombs didn’t explode, but radioactive fallout spread across the crash site.

Roughly 1,600 troops were ordered to the site but given minimal, if any, protective gear. Some had to use their bare hands to handle radioactive waste. The Air Force still won’t admit, 50 years later, that anyone was harmed in the Spain cleanup or a similar one in 1968 after a bomber crash in Thule, Greenland.

Private-sector employers must accept responsibility for dangers they expose their employees to. A mining executive went to prison this year for safety violations contributing to the deaths of 21 West Virginia miners in 2010.

The long succession of stories about veterans sickened during military service, who are repeatedly denied VA health care, strongly suggests the government views them as disposable assets. It’s as if officials prefer that the veterans would just die so their problems will go away.

Meanwhile, veterans and their families are left to grapple with medical debts often in the tens of thousands of dollars.

The VA’s and Pentagon’s constant obfuscation, evasion and runarounds are no way to treat those who selflessly answered their nation’s call to duty. Americans owe it to our veterans to speak out.

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Columbia Daily Tribune, July 2

Since the recently appointed University of Missouri Review Commission was conceived and sponsored by political candidate and state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, and since the move was quickly embraced by majority Republican members of the Missouri General Assembly critical of UM management, and since the ad hoc commission’s eight members are appointed, four each, by the Republican Senate president pro tem and the Republican speaker of the House, and since efforts were rejected during debate to give at least one appointment each to the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, it’s no surprise Democrats suspect a Republican partisan agenda.

Republican leaders reject this notion, swearing they only have in mind reviewing and commenting on how the university handled recent turmoil on the MU campus and how it might do better in the future.

Although most of the eight members of the commission can fairly be characterized as leaning or outright conservative Republicans, I don’t think the main worry is that they will somehow infect the university with a toxic GOP disease; it’s that their enterprise is a political stunt of questionable value. If at the end of the day a report is issued, it will be able to say little in the way of harsh criticism beyond what has already been bantered about. If it does make valuable suggestions about university governance, which is possible, they won’t be simple reiterations of alleged failures in the way officials on campus handled themselves during the turmoil.

I think the commission members generally will approach their assigned task with good heart and intent. Some are outright partisans, but actually their opportunity for mischief is lessened by the political cant of the commission. Members won’t be likely to argue pointlessly among themselves, as might be the case with an antagonistic bipartisan group. Maybe they will want to show themselves to be nonpartisan evaluators as advertised.

There are smart people involved whose main frustration might be an inability to do anything of much value. I believe they want to help the university, yet they find themselves on something akin to a university committee, an organizational concoction famous for transforming eager intent into drawn-out wool-gathering.

And, of course, this might be the salvation of the University of Missouri Review Commission. Its group cogitation will be intelligent and well-meaning and nuanced and indecisive and harmless. Though politically motivated, it will be a university committee proceeding rather than a Benghazi witch hunt.

If any arrangement can be counted on to round sharp edges, it is the university committee. Have faith.

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Jefferson City News Tribune, July 2

TDDs, CIDs and TIFs add up to more than an acronym overload; they represent local taxing districts that receive and disperse tax revenue.

Once established, these taxing entities exist and operate with little public scrutiny.

A bill approved by the Legislation and signed this week by Gov. Jay Nixon is designed to increase public transparency and accountability of Transportation Development Districts (TDDs) and Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) throughout the state.

Separate legislation pertaining to Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) also was signed by Nixon, but its provisions are limited to the St. Louis area.

A TDD is an independent political subdivision organized to levy taxes or assessments to pay for the construction of roads, parking lots and other transportation-related improvements within the district. Each TDD is governed by a board of directors. Cole County has three TDDs: East Wal-Mart at U.S. 50/63; Stoneridge Village, including Kohl’s, off Missouri Boulevard; and the Commons of Hazel Hills at Missouri 179.

A CID, as defined by the Missouri Department of Economic Development, may be either a political subdivision or non-profit corporation organized to finance a wide range of public-use facilities. A CID petition must include, among other requirements, the maximum rates of property taxes or special assessments to be imposed. Cole County has two CIDs - one in Old Munichburg on the south side and another at Capital Mall.

The law signed by Nixon clarifies the process for TDDs to file annual financial statements with the state auditor’s office , as well as the penalty process for non-compliance.

The law also authorizes the state auditor to audit CIDs without a petition from district residents. Under the auditor’s expanded authority, all CIDs are subject to audits.

In signing the legislation, the governor said: “When residents vote to improve their community through local taxing districts, they expect these districts to be held accountable and follow the law. This legislation will provide taxpayers additional protection by strengthening the state auditor’s ability to root out wrongdoing and mismanagement.”

Exactly.

Although these taxing entities may be authorized by elected governing bodies, their operations are largely overseen by unelected representatives of property owners within the district.

We welcome the enhanced scrutiny and accountability an elected statewide official, Missouri’s auditor, will provide.

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