- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Topeka Capital-Journal, May 21

Protect the NEA and NEH

Advocates of public funding for the arts and humanities in the U.S. were horrified when President Trump released his proposed budget two months ago. The budget included an unprecedented call to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (a critical source of revenue for PBS and NPR stations across the country). The NEA and NEH receive $296 million per year combined - less than 8 cents a month for each taxpayer.

However, many American artists, curators, teachers and patrons were able to relax a bit when a bipartisan spending bill was passed earlier this month. Funding for the CPB remained constant while both the NEA and NEH were given $2 million increases. An article in the Los Angeles Times outlined why there has been staunch resistance to Trump’s cuts in Congress (even among many Republicans): “Most NEA funds go to support community arts groups in all 50 states, with rural, Republican-leaning states topping the lists of spending per person.” One of those rural, Republican-leaning states is Kansas.

In May 2016, the NEA awarded more than $82.3 million in grants for 1,148 projects throughout the country. These awards included $741,600 for four projects in Kansas, such as the Free State Festival in Lawrence, the Opera Academy of the Midwest in Wichita and a “multidisciplinary performing arts series at the Lied Center of Kansas.” In a smaller round of funding announced in December 2016, Kansas received six grants for a total of $110,000 that will support the Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts Series, the William Inge Center for the Arts in Independence and an exhibition at KU’s Spencer Museum of Art.

Meanwhile, the Kansas Humanities Council receives roughly 80 percent of its funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The KHC is a powerful engine of cultural education and intellectual engagement in our state, supporting the widespread availability of everything from free lectures and book discussions to free documentaries about Kansas history to the preservation of our culture. In 2016 alone, the KHC offered more than 700 programs to 400,000 people across the state - every single one of which was free. The KHC has also produced oral histories (interviews with Kansans affected by historical events) on the Boeing closure in Wichita and the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision - recordings that will be preserved at the Library of Congress.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney defended Trump’s budget by explaining that it’s unfair to ask everyone to subsidize the arts and humanities: “Can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?” For someone who claims to be speaking on behalf working- and middle class Americans, Mulvaney sure doesn’t understand them. We recently published an article written by four Poet Laureates of Kansas, and they pointed to the warm reception they’ve received everywhere in Kansas: “Anyone who thinks of poetry as elitist should ride along with us to Colby (pop. 5,387), or Kinsley (1,457), or Glasco (498), and see how many farmers, miners, nurses, children and retirees fill up rooms.”

Although the NEA and NEH have survived more than 100 days of the Trump administration, Kansans from Colby to Topeka need to keep reminding Washington that art and culture remain vital priorities in our state.

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The Hutchinson News, May 19

Legislature right to examine the state’s foster care system

The state of Kansas can no longer ignore some of the problems that have long plagued the state’s foster care system - and this week the House of Representatives passed a measure to attempt to restore accountability to the system that cares for some of the state’s most vulnerable children.

The bill, now in the Senate, creates a task force to increase oversight of private contractors who carry out state functions in child welfare, as well as oversee the Department of Children and Family Services’ effectiveness in practicing new laws and regulations.

The House vote was unanimous in support of the move.

“We can all agree it is time for action and solutions,” said Linda Gallagher, R-Lenexa. “The task force is intended not to just study the problems in the system and issue yet another report to go on the shelf. We have a thick file in our committee of many reports that have been issued in recent years about problems in the child welfare system. Instead, this task force is to study the issues and then recommend ways to improve the system.”

There are more than 7,000 children - a record - in the state’s foster care system, which has been riddled lately with discouraging examples of the ways in which the system has failed these children. Initial studies have shown that DCF and its contractors weren’t collecting enough information to adequately monitor programs or ensure there are enough foster homes in the state.

Years ago, the idea of privatization of the state’s child welfare system would yield better results at a better cost. And while the field is filled with caring individuals who want to help children who come from fractured homes, they are often asked to do the impossible - with incomprehensibly high caseloads and inadequate resources to assist families and their children.

That shouldn’t surprise anyone since the mantra in years past has been to save money at all costs - even if it means shortchanging the state’s children. Yet, we’re now learning that our efforts to save money were really an effort to cut corners. As such, we’re now realizing the fruit of those labors, and it is largely finding that kids who are viewed as an expense to be trimmed - rather than an investment to be made - end up in deplorable situations, or worse.

This task force to oversee the state’s child welfare system is a good step to right some wrongs that have taken place. The Senate should follow the House’s lead, and once this task force is in place, both chambers must use the gained information to make life safer and better for Kansas children.

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Lawrence Journal-World, May 22

The news isn’t getting any better for Kansas legislators.

With only a handful of days left in the 2017 legislative session, the Legislature still doesn’t have an appropriations bill and still hasn’t figured out a school finance plan. And the economic news is getting worse, not better.

Last week, the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University released an updated employment forecast for the state. The news wasn’t good. The report forecasts job growth of 0.5 percent this year, half the average of 1 percent for the past five years. Modest job growth of 1.4 percent is predicted in the Kansas City, Wichita and Topeka metro areas but the rest of the state is expected to experience job losses of about 1 percent.

Jeremy Hill, the director of the center, said the Kansas economy may have peaked.

“There are now multiple signs of an economy that is losing steam,” Hill said. “Although the forecast calls for employment growth at half of the rate over the past five years, increased caution should be added as a state-led recession is potentially around the corner.”

That’s a problem for a Legislature trying to plug a billion-dollar hole in the state’s budget. Any legislators holding out hope that an economic revival is just around the corner need to wake up and smell the coffee. With a slowing economy, sales taxes aren’t going to produce the kind of revenue the state needs to address its woes. And property taxes - most of which are dedicated to education funding - aren’t really an option either.

That brings legislators back to where they started the session: income taxes. There simply is no way around addressing the state’s income tax structure and, more specifically, the broad-based income tax cuts implemented by legislators in 2012 and 2013 at the urging of Gov. Sam Brownback. Those tax cuts have crippled state revenues for five consecutive years and dug the billion-dollar hole the state faces.

Brownback has said repeatedly that the tax cuts will stimulate Kansas’ economy and eventually result in growth. But the evidence is now solidly to the contrary and as the Center for Economic Development and Business Research report showed, there’s no sign that the economy is going to pick up pace anytime soon.

Legislators have dabbled with addressing tax reform. They passed a bill in February that the governor vetoed and last week, the House toyed with a plan to repeal the tax cuts altogether before abandoning it when the Senate called House legislators’ bluff. Instead, lawmakers shifted focus toward dabbling with increasing taxes on tobacco and alcohol and perhaps an increased fee on utilities. In fact, the House was reportedly working on a new tax plan that lawmakers have already dubbed the kitchen sink plan because it includes every kind of tax or fee imaginable.

This is no way to run a state. Surely, lawmakers understand that the only way to fix the state’s fiscal woes is to repeal or significantly modify the Brownback tax cuts. The question is, do they have the political courage to do so?

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The Iola Register, May 18

Silver linings can’t hide the ugly facts

For the governor’s sake, let’s find the silver lining: His approval rating among Kansans has come up.

Yes, it’s still in the basement, and well below that of President Trump‘s, but it is up by 6 percent from the all-time low of 62 percent who last fall said they were “very dissatisfied” with the governor’s performance.

As for Trump, 36 percent gave him two thumbs down.

This spring’s survey of 1,362 Kansas residents was released this week. It is conducted biannually by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs based at Fort Hays State University.

Their concerns?

A large majority, 65 percent, say Kansas is on the wrong track and that they have lost faith in its future. More than half of respondents fear the state’s shaky finances - the state has a $900 million budget gap for the next two years - will impact them personally.

Most think the 2012 income tax cuts were a bad idea and should be repealed and that income taxes should be raised on big business and the wealthy.

Almost 70 percent favor raising taxes on alcohol and tobacco.

A majority, 59 percent, favor banning guns in public health facilities.

So will legislators listen?

Perhaps for those legislators sitting on the fence the poll makes it easier for them to know what side to come down on - that is, if it’s their constituents they have in mind.

We know most things are not black and white and that compromises must be made.

For example, the issue of concealed carry on university campuses or in public health settings could be resolved by giving the decision to each school or hospital board of trustees. Let the locals, not a state body, decide what is best for individual settings.

Overwhelmingly, the survey showed that Kansans want change. They are tired of hearing about neglected schools, deteriorating infrastructure, and a budget in crisis.

The good news is that 90 percent of respondents say they intend to stay put. Let’s make it a place they are proud to call home.

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