- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Manhattan Mercury, May 15

A setback for Kansas counties:

It wasn’t a surprise, but it was nevertheless disappointing that Gov. Sam Brownback on May 14 signed legislation that will eliminate the mortgage registration fee over several years.

The new law, which had been supported by the Kansas banking and real estate lobbies, will save homebuyers who take out mortgages $2.60 on every $1,000 they borrow. On a $100,000 loan, they would save $260. That’s not bad, but neither is it much of a windfall given the total costs involved.

Unfortunately, changing a law that has been on the books for decades - and that did much good at comparatively little cost - will likely hurt most Kansas counties more than it helps homebuyers.

That’s because revenue from the fees has gone to the counties in which the deeds are registered, and that explains why Kansas counties overwhelmingly opposed the legislation. Even provisions written into the law to offset some of the losses will leave many counties to decide whether to raise property taxes or scale back services. As was the case in many of the state’s 105 counties, the Riley County Commission formally opposed the legislation.

The governor’s signature on this bill roughly coincided with a more detailed report from Moody’s Investor Services, which last month downgraded Kansas bonds. Moody’s took that step largely because in its view, the zeal with which the Legislature has cut taxes has undermined the state’s financial integrity. And although the governor has insisted that the tax cuts will spur economic growth, Moody’s noted that economic growth in Kansas is not keeping up with the pace of most neighboring states.

Moody’s didn’t go so far as to call doing away with the state income tax a credit risk, but it did say that “eliminating a tax that has been in place for many years and has accounted for a large share of revenue entails risks.”

Unfortunately, some of those risks will be increasingly borne by local governments, which will find themselves cushioning the blow on residents who’ve relied on state services and programs that, because of the lack of revenue, are being cut back.

Now, apparently not content to slash state revenue, the Legislature and Gov. Brownback have taken to cutting revenue counties rely on. In eliminating the mortgage registration fee, the Legislature and governor have only added insult to injury.


The Hutchinson News, May 16

Kobach blends politics, business:

It turns out that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach isn’t just a gun enthusiast and stalwart defender of the Second Amendment. He’s also a principal investor of the Kansas-based gun maker Minuteman Defense LLC.

That investment, and Kobach’s potential for financial gain, makes his overt involvement in advancing a Kansas law that insulates Kansas-made firearms from federal regulations both questionable and contemptible.

In 2013, the Kansas Legislature passed and Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill that would protect Kansas-made firearms.

Through the cry of state sovereignty, the law mandates that firearms made and sold in Kansas can’t be touched by federal regulations.

Kobach helped write the bill, testified in support of it and assured lawmakers it would pass legal challenge. He even rebutted U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s argument that the Kansas law was unconstitutional.

What the Kansas Secretary of State failed to mention through all that time, however, was his personal financial interest in the legislation and that he wasn’t simply acting on the behalf of Kansans concerned about their right to bear arms.

Kobach’s support of the legislation and his work to guide the bill to passage seemingly also was motivated by the need to create a specific market for his company’s products and to ensure that his investment paid off.

Kobach’s actions are a strikingly clear display of crony capitalism, where friends of politicians gain from their influential connections, and where politicians use their positions to create and pass legislation that yields personal gain for themselves or their friends. To that point, Kobach’s business partner is a longtime friend who has contributed significant amounts of money to Kobach’s campaigns.

It’s a shame that the poor, the middle class, the sick and the elderly can’t all be friends with powerful people like Kobach.

Likewise, it’s unfortunate that most Kansans can’t offer the motivating promise of wealth and profit. All we can offer are votes, and we’re quickly learning that those don’t hold nearly the worth of money.

A vote certainly isn’t enough to get the secretary of state’s attention, and it’s surely not enough to compel him to carry legislation through the gauntlet of Topeka politics.

Kobach’s actions, while legal, lack scruples.

At the least, he could’ve been upfront with Kansans about his motivation for aggressively pushing the legislation; better still if he would’ve recognized the conflict of his support and allowed others to support the legislation.

Yet that arrogant failure to recognize conflict and repeated efforts to use public office for personal gain is precisely why there is a growing lack of faith in the current leaders in Topeka.

Almost daily it becomes more clear that the needs and wants of Kansans fall far below some public officials’ desire to use government as a tool for their personal benefit and that there’s little some won’t do to capitalize on their time in office.


The Clay Center Dispatch, May 14

Thanks and a grownup’s warning:

Stooped, moving slowly with an aide nearby, Sen. Bob Dole shuffled his way to a chair in front of several dozen applauding Clay Countians there for a final glimpse of the Kansan who once led the U.S. Senate, brokered a deal that saved Social Security, authored the Americans with Disabilities Act and challenged Bill Clinton for the presidency.

Clay Center’s turn on Dole’s thank-you tour of Kansas fell on a cold, cloudy Monday. He acknowledged everyone who approached to shake his hand with a smile and exchange of words.

It was clearly an enormous physical effort, although he showed no sign of giving in. Bent so that it was difficult for him to look many in the eye, he nevertheless kept engaging well-wishers as long as there was someone who had something to say.

Dole did thank his supporters. “Clay Center was always good to me,” he told the group, a fact no one can dispute.

Except for the weakened voice, it was vintage Dole. Quick, self-deprecating wit. No drama.

But the warrior spirit that got him through his World War II experience and injuries and carried him to the top in the U.S. Senate now is clearly propelling him through these final visits with his former constituents.

Simply saying “thank you” would hardly be worth the monumental physical effort the tour demands of the 91-year-old Dole. It was clear he was there for another purpose.

Besides thanking them, a gentle but firm warning ran through his remarks: Remember you’re Kansans. Don’t be seduced by the partisan passions of the times. Fight for what you believe, but don’t become un-moored from Kansas common sense and tolerant spirit. Expect the kind of leadership from your representatives that gets things done.

Dole said there is no leadership in the Congress or from the White House now and credited the Newt Gingrich revolution and its government shutdown with putting him behind in his campaign against Democrat Bill Clinton.

He said the shutdown, which he termed “child’s play,” cost him eight percentage points in the polls which otherwise would have had him tied with Clinton.

In politics, “No one gets everything they want,” Dole said. When politicians stop negotiating, compromising, listening, nothing good gets done.

He finished on an optimistic note, saying he believes America will pull itself out of the current political morass.

That, and he’ll be back at 100.

The effort he is expending on his tour suggests he believes just that.


The Wichita Eagle, May 16

Legislature shares blame for tuition hikes:

Students and legislators had to be unhappy to see all six state universities request higher tuition rates and fees. But as students and their parents go looking for more cash, irked lawmakers should look in the mirror.

The proposed hikes include Wichita State University’s 4.9 percent, the University of Kansas’ 4.3 percent and Kansas State University’s 5.2 percent.

Assuming the Kansas Board of Regents blesses the increases next month, some students and parents may have to take on more loan debt. Some may delay college - though even after years of steady and often steep increases at Kansas’ campuses, it’s still hard to gauge how price sensitivity affects enrollment. The institutions argue persuasively that, even with higher tuition and fees, they will offer a good value at a price that compares favorably with peer institutions.

Meanwhile, many legislators may be dismayed that the universities want to raise tuition and fees even after the 2014 Legislature restored some of the higher-education funding cut last year. But current state funding of the regents system is far short of its pre-recession levels, and Moody’s Investors Service just cited the “state’s budgetary challenges” and KU’s “thin operating performance and limited liquidity” as it downgraded the credit rating of KU as well as Emporia State University. That tough assessment takes aim at the Statehouse as much as at the campuses.

The regents should carefully scrutinize the requests, recognizing the link between affordability and access. And lawmakers should recognize their responsibility for such hikes and potential role in curbing them.

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