- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Lawrence Journal-World, Jan. 10

Agriculture changes must be part of plan to preserve Ogallala Aquifer:

Sometimes, it isn’t that the handwriting on the wall is indecipherable, it’s just that the message refuses to be acknowledged.

There’s the buggy-whip-business analogy, or more recently changes technology has brought about that have impacted and are changing communications, education, computers, banking, media, retail and nearly every facet of life in the United States. Agriculture is not exempt from reality, whether it’s imposed by technology or other factors.

The case in point is the continued depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, which for years has enabled western Kansas farmers to sustain crops primarily to feed cattle to supply beef for consumers.

The aquifer is going dry to the point that the cost of pumping water from it no longer makes economic sense to the users.

And to call the concept of a multi-billion-dollar canal from the Missouri River to resupply the aquifer a pipe dream is to denigrate pipe dreams.

At the same time that the Kansas Geological Survey is again measuring the drop in the aquifer, Josh Svaty, a former Kansas Secretary of Agriculture now with the Land Institute, spoke in Lawrence about the economy related to the aquifer. He did so in the same time frame of recent reports of Kansas farmers turning to cotton as a crop that has more economic feasibility than the grains the aquifer long has made possible.

The confluence of attention given to these related matters, and the importance of the topics, should not be lost. While time permits, a means should be found to encourage landholders in Western Kansas to examine what the Salina-based Land Institute can offer: research and information about commercial crops better suited to the climate and soil conditions above the aquifer.

It should not be left to the Land Institute alone. As Gov. Sam Brownback has acknowledged, “Water and the Kansas economy are directly linked. Water is a finite resource and without further planning and action we will no longer be able to meet our state’s current needs, let alone growth.” That report should include a path to a suitable crop transition in Western Kansas that can protect its economy while moving it away from its insatiable thirst for the Ogallala water.

A gubernatorial task force is charged with reporting this coming November. Let’s hope the handwriting on the wall is in large clear print and that the message gets through.


The Hutchinson News, Jan. 13

Rules for Kansas Statehouse interns:

Kansas state legislators were right to shy away from micromanaging the dress and conduct of interns before they arrived last week for orientation in preparation for assignments working in the Statehouse for the 2014 session.

“We don’t want it to be an onerous environment,” said Rep. Peggy Mast, an Emporia Republican and House speaker pro tem, in an interview with the Topeka Capital-Journal. “We wanted it to be a professional environment.”

That’s exactly what it should be. But a legislative intern rule book shouldn’t have to spell out precisely the acceptable quantity of perfume and cologne, hair coloring, number of earrings, length of facial hair and the tightness of pants.

That interns are expected to demonstrate the highest level of conduct because they represent House or Senate members at all times, whether at work or play, shouldn’t have to be explicit in the handbook. And with volunteer interns, the Legislature needs to be careful about demanding that “inappropriate” photographs and language be deleted from personal social media sites.

These are all examples of conduct that could be discussed in an orientation session for those uncertain of the boundaries. But we must remember that these are volunteer interns and that as college-age aspiring professionals, this is a learning experience. They will learn they won’t be taken seriously if they don’t dress and act the part of a professional.

And, besides, we’re not so sure that all legislators themselves always would follow such a strict code of professional conduct, either. And they’ve been known to tweet or otherwise utter something inappropriate at times.

Instead, the handbook simply will advise interns to dress professionally. It has the obvious no-nos - flip-flops and tennis shoes - and says tattoos should be covered, if possible. Men are advised to wear a suit or a collared dress shirt and tie, dress slacks and dress shoes. Women are to wear “suits or business dresses or a shirt-dress pants and dressy top.”

‘Nuf said.


The (Junction City) Daily Union, Jan. 13

Decision in school funding should be soon:

With the arrival of the New Year, a ruling in the public school financing case is expected any day from the state Supreme Court.

Though it is not a sure thing, many observers expect the court to uphold a three-judge panel’s decision nearly a year ago that the Kansas Legislature violated the state constitution when it reduced public school funding during the recession.

In doing so, it violated a previous court order from 2005 to put more money into the schools. As it now stands, base funding per student is $3,812, down from a high of $4,438 in the 2008-09 school year.

As we have written before, we believe the Legislature broke its promise when it slashed state funding to public schools, and that they are inadequately financed. It would cost the state an additional $450 million annually to reach the funding level agreed upon in 2005 under the previous court order. That will require either deep cuts elsewhere - and there isn’t much left to cut after years of stripping state government - or restoring some of the income tax cuts pushed through by Gov. Sam Brownback.

We greatly prefer the latter, especially since the state has not seen any indication that these cuts have created jobs or boosted the economy as promised. Primarily what the tax cuts have done is force the Legislature to reduce funding to higher education, keep in place a sales tax increase that was supposed to end, and further shift the burden to local property taxpayers.

Increases in local property taxes are being used as a scare tactic by a conservative think tank that recently conducted a poll related to the school finance lawsuit. One poll question claimed property taxes would automatically increase if the lower court decision was upheld, and asked taxpayers if courts ought have the final say on how much taxpayer money is spent on education. When phrased in that manner, many Kansans said “no.”

Trouble is, that assumption is not necessarily accurate. In fact, many school districts that have raised local rates likely would cut them if state funding were restored to previous levels. That would certainly be the politically astute move to make.

The state funding morass is likely to become a major election issue in next year’s governor’s race, especially if an expected attack on the state judiciary’s independence is launched.

We should know soon which direction the state will go once the court ruling is handed down, right about the time the Legislature begins the 2014 session.


The Wichita Eagle, Jan. 10

Still more tax cuts:

Even after the state’s historic $1.1 billion income-tax break, a new Kansas Chamber of Commerce poll of CEOs found strong demand for more tax cuts. If that priority prevails at the Statehouse, then the public schools, universities, social services and other budget areas hoping for restored funding could be out of luck.

You would expect more evidence of gratitude by now for the 2012 tax cuts, which ended state income taxes for nearly 200,000 companies as of last year and lowered personal income-tax rates on what Gov. Sam Brownback vowed would be a “glide path to zero.” The governor and Legislature intended the reform as a fast-acting way to help businesses and to bolster economic and population growth.

And after all, as Wichita certified public accountant Gary Allerheiligen noted at a recent small-business forum in Kansas City, Kan., “Many small businesses in Kansas can now say, ‘I am no longer a Kansas taxpayer.’”

But in the poll of 300 executives and owners of mostly small businesses, conducted in November and December, 57 percent said they paid too much in state and local taxes (up from 50 percent for 2012 and 55 percent for 2011 and 2010) and 64 percent said they thought it would help the economy to lower taxes. Asked for the top two issues affecting their profitability, 40 percent of those polled said lower business taxes - 10 percent more than last year.

Maybe executives have just been too busy running their businesses to notice the state tax cuts yet, or too distracted with anger over their higher federal tax bill.

Maybe the Topeka action on income and sales taxes the past two legislative sessions heightened business owners’ awareness of their tax burden - and the troubling reality that the governor and lawmakers, fighting to cover spending obligations, dropped the statewide sales tax only to 6.15 percent last year, rather than to the scheduled rate of 5.7 percent.

Or maybe the benefits of the income-tax cuts for business are being blunted by local property-tax hikes that have occurred - not coincidentally - across much of Kansas in response to state funding cuts to local governments. In the poll, questions about “possible revenue sources for the state” found the greatest opposition to increasing property taxes (91 percent), followed by income taxes (87 percent) and the statewide sales tax (75 percent, up from 64 percent opposition in 2012).

Whatever is behind the surge in interest in tax cuts, chamber president Mike O’Neal sees it as a signal to keep pushing for lower taxes while ensuring the recent cuts aren’t rolled back. “We aren’t done. We’re on a track to continue to reduce,” O’Neal said in a conference call with state media. “Not only should we play defense and make sure that’s not undone, we need to keep plowing ahead.”

And what the Kansas Chamber wants from the Legislature, it tends to get.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide