- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Wichita Eagle, June 15

State’s fiscal fears multiplying:

Two years after promising his tax cuts would be an adrenaline shot to the economy’s heart, Gov. Sam Brownback last week told the Wall Street Journal: “It’s like going through surgery. It takes a while to heal and get growing afterwards.” Sounds painful, and not very reassuring.

Revenues were always anticipated to drop significantly as the massive income-tax cuts took effect for 2013. What has perplexed and unnerved many is how revenues for the past two months could be so dramatically less than projected - $310 million less between April and May - given that the state’s economists just ran the numbers in April. Even if collections better match estimates going forward, Brownback’s prized $700 million reserves could dwindle to $50 million by next summer.

Administration officials have strained to blame the fall-off not on the tax cuts but on President Obama, and specifically on the impact of investors having sought in late 2012 to avoid an increase in the federal capital-gains tax related to the fiscal cliff. Some other states have seen their own year-to-year dips.

But last week the nonpartisan Kansas Legislative Research Department put some distance between it and the Brownback administration’s explanations, saying in a regular report that it appears some of the initial estimates associated with the tax law changes in 2012 and 2013 “were understated.”

Higher education leaders are said to be concerned about what this revenue trajectory will mean for their institutions. The worriers are sure to multiply. It would be one thing if taxes, once cut, could be adjusted upward as necessary. The surest urge at the Statehouse will be to cut spending somehow - never mind increasing costs and KanCare caseloads, the pending school finance lawsuit, and the strain of years of reductions across the board of state-funded services.

Meanwhile, Brownback’s re-election campaign wants to talk about other parts of the state’s fiscal picture, including new business filings and job growth along the Missouri border. But it’s on the governor, who famously warned Texas to look out for a Kansas boom, that the Bureau of Economic Analysis data released last week found the state’s 1.9 percent growth in gross domestic product in 2013 - while slightly better than the nation’s 1.8 percent rate - lagged not just Texas’ 3.7 percent but the growth in every neighboring state except Missouri.

Nor can the governor credibly discount the unflattering attention this fiscal predicament is drawing to Kansas, including the Wall Street Journal’s characterization of the tax cuts “as more of a warning than a beacon” and its quotes from state officials in Nebraska and Oklahoma about having learned from Kansas’ mistake.

Moody’s Investors Service cited “Kansas’ relatively sluggish recovery compared with its peers” and “revenue reductions resulting from tax cuts which have not been fully offset by recurring spending cuts” as among the reasons for its decision to downgrade the state’s credit rating last month.

The questions soon to be answered: Whether the fiscal cliff sell-off is “the primary cause” and “the big lug is done,” as Department of Revenue officials have put it, or whether state leaders’ faith in the stimulative power of the tax cuts was disastrously misplaced. If the tax cuts continue to be a dud, governor and lawmakers will need to not only answer for them but respond to them.


The Manhattan Mercury, June 16

Roberts’ tenure is a curious issue:

Can Milton Wolf topple U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts in the Republican primary election in August? We’re inclined to doubt it, and we have plenty of company. But we’re also inclined to think Sen. Roberts ought to campaign as if anything is possible.

Dr. Wolf, a Leawood radiologist, is an unabashed tea party candidate who seems to consider Sen. Roberts’ tenure reason enough to dump him. It’s not a new tactic, and it’s hardly a guarantee of success, but that isn’t deterring Dr. Wolf.

As he told The Associated Press, “Something very real is going on. This era of the career politician is ending, which I think is a very good thing for America.”

That era might be ending, though it’s hardly clear. And whether the ending of that era is a good thing would depend on what comes after it. What’s more, whether Dr. Wolf would be the beneficiary of this sea change might depend on how two others who seek the GOP nomination - Alvin Zahnter of Russell and D.J. Smith of Osawatomie - fare.

In any case, it seems premature to suggest that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat in a Virginia congressional district primary, although a major upset, has started the dominos falling. Even Sen. Thad Cochran’s primary election troubles in Mississippi haven’t yet spelled defeat, though he faces a runoff.

The trouble with Dr. Wolf’s argument is that much of the reason Sen. Roberts has been in Washington for decades is that Kansans keep sending him back there. He represented the 1st District in Congress for many years before his three Senate terms.

He’s swept aside all challengers, most of whom have been Democrats because opposition from within the Republican Party has been rare.

While Dr. Wolf is trying to give Kansans reasons to vote against Sen. Roberts - including constant reminders that the senator owns a home outside Washington, D.C., while merely renting a residence in Kansas - one would think the challenger would be extolling his own qualifications, positions and assets.

His positions don’t differ greatly from those of Sen. Roberts., and if Dr. Wolf is more conservative than the incumbent, he has yet to demonstrate it.

He also has yet to show Republican voters why making him their nominee would be worth giving up all of Sen. Roberts’ seniority - seniority that would almost certainly result in a committee chairmanship if the GOP retakes the Senate.


Lawrence Journal-World, June 15

Voters still ‘in suspense’:

For Kansans who thought the mess created by the state’s ill-conceived proof-of-citizenship requirement for new voters eventually soon would resolve itself, think again.

At this point, there’s no end in sight, and prospects for improving the situation before this year’s elections seem slim.

In late 2013, the office of Secretary of State Kris Kobach reported that about 18,000 voter registrations were being held “in suspense” because the would-be voters hadn’t provided the newly required proof of citizenship. In February 2014, Kobach’s office said that it had been able to release about 7,700 of those registrations by working with the Kansas Office of Vital Statistics to check the registration list against Kansas birth certificate records. Even so, Kobach’s office reported that, as of Feb. 1, nearly 15,000 registrations remained “in suspense.”

In the four months since, county election officers have continued their efforts to contact people with pending registrations and obtain proof of citizenship. However, as of June 1, the Secretary of State’s office reported, the list of registrations in suspense was back up to 18,071.

Even in Douglas County, which appears to be making significant verification efforts, more than 600 would-be voters still are in suspense. County Clerk Jamie Shew said those voters have until Aug. 4 to provide that proof so they can vote in the Aug. 5 primary election, but there has been confusion among some voters who think they will be able to vote if they simply bring their citizenship documents to the poll on election day. Thousands of other Kansans may be in the same boat and will be disappointed when they show up at the polls with a birth certificate or just a driver’s license thinking that’s all they need.

Kobach doesn’t see this as a problem. Last fall, he acknowledged that more than 80 percent of the registrations that are in suspense were filed at driver’s license offices across the state. Those people, he said, “are mostly casual registrants, many of whom do not intend to vote.” Many Kansans who chose to take advantage of the convenience of registering when they got their driver’s licenses may be surprised to see their right to vote dismissed in such a cavalier manner.

More important, Kobach contends, is the need to ensure that no non-citizens cast ballots in Kansas elections. Is preventing up to 18,000 eligible Kansas voters from participating in the election an acceptable trade-off to prevent votes by no more than a handful of non-citizens who probably would have been identified and turned away by voter ID and other standard voting procedures? It would be one thing if the state had an adequate way to confirm citizenship without creating a huge backlog of incomplete registrations - but that obviously isn’t the case.

Less than two months from the August primary, most of the action concerning the state’s proof-of-citizenship law is centered in the courts, where Kobach continues to press his case. Perhaps his time would be better spent trying to get more people off the “in suspense” list rather that fighting to put more people on it.


The Salina Journal, June 12

Legislature picks fight with teachers, then blames teachers:

“Research has clearly proven that teacher effectiveness is one of the most important elements associated with student success, and we passed this reform measure with the welfare of Kansas students in mind. However, with the filing of this lawsuit, it is apparent that the KNEA is more concerned about its members than student achievement and outcomes.” - Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle.

There are so many things wrong with Wagle’s statement that’s it difficult to know where to start. But first, some background.

In the late, waning hours of the 2014 Legislature, the Senate passed a school funding bill that stripped public school teachers of their automatic right to a due process hearing, or tenure. That provision was introduced by Sen. Tom Arpke, R-Salina.

There were no committee hearings or discussion. It was just rammed through.

Defenders of this “reform” say it was all about giving local school boards more control. Actually, it was about sticking it to the teachers’ union.

Now, let’s look at Wagle’s statement.

Everyone can agree that effective teachers help students succeed. But it doesn’t follow that removing tenure will cause teachers to be more effective. In fact, teachers argue that without the limited protection of tenure, they’ll be less likely to take creative chances and advocate for their students.

Wagle says the lawsuit proves that teachers are more concerned about their own jobs than their students. So, how do teachers prove they care about their students? By Wagle’s reasoning, by rolling over and playing dead after being needlessly provoked.

What removing teacher tenure - especially in the way it was done - and Wagle’s statement show is that the people who did this don’t understand unions or how to treat people. Rather than weakening the union, all they’ve done is to give teachers an issue to rally around and perhaps strengthen their resolve - exactly what Wagle and her ilk didn’t want.

Had this been done openly, teachers still wouldn’t have agreed, but at least they could have been treated like adults and professionals.

Don’t blame the teachers for standing up for themselves. Blame those who unnecessarily picked this fight.

Perhaps Wagle has some research on the effectiveness of treating people with respect.



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