- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Topeka Capital-Journal, May 5

Legislature to be applauded for sunshine bill:

It may take most Kansans a while to digest the good, the not so good and the downright ugly products of the 2014 legislative session, but it is not too early to applaud legislators for passing and sending to Gov. Sam Brownback a bill that will open to some public scrutiny the probable cause documents law enforcement officers and prosecutors present to judges to obtain search and arrest warrants.

If Brownback signs the bill, as he should, Kansas will no longer be the only state in the nation that completely seals such documents from the public. That will be a good thing, and a major victory for transparency.

Credit for convincing the Legislature to pass the bill goes largely to Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, and two of his constituents in Johnson County who were treated to an early-morning drug raid and spent years and $20,000 of their own money to find out why.

The couple was eventually successful in obtaining a copy of the probable cause documents for the search warrant from the court. They learned their purchase of materials at a hydroponics store to grow tomatoes in their basement had been reported to police, who conducted a search of the couple’s trash that turned up some tea leaves. The leaves were mistaken for marijuana. A search warrant for their home was subsequently sought and issued.

Why law enforcement officers didn’t take the time to test the tea leaves, and why the judge issued a warrant on such flimsy evidence is unknown. It is hoped that such rushes to judgment are the exception rather than the rule in Kansas. But with the probable cause documents tightly sealed away from public view, there was no way to know, until now.

The bill passed in the waning hours of the 2014 session makes the probable cause documents for arrest warrants open to the public after five days. Access to probable cause documents for search warrants will be limited to the owners of the property searched. Broader access to the information regarding search warrants would further enhance transparency, but the compromise worked out between opponents and proponents of the bill is acceptable.

We’ve little doubt people subjected to unreasonable searches - such as the one conducted on the Johnson County tomato-growing operation - won’t be hesitant bring them to the public’s attention.

It’s also assumed that law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges will take greater care in ensuring the warrants they seek and issue don’t breach the public’s constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure.


The Hutchinson News, May 2

A Kansas failure-tale:

Once upon a time, Gov. Sam Brownback said that his grand tax plan would be a “shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” It would create tens of thousands of new jobs, he said, grow the state’s coffers and “directly benefit our schools and local governments.”

Turns out, it wasn’t adrenaline the governor was pumping into the state’s vein, it was morphine and it has made the state, and its economic activity, lethargic and uninspiring.

But not to worry, since this grand experiment hasn’t worked as planned, the governor and his followers will just blame it all on President Obama.

In mid-April, the Kansas Department of Revenue was cheering that the state’s revenue estimates were growing by leaps and bounds - evidence that the governor’s aggressive plan to cut business and personal income taxes was stimulating the state’s economy.

Just a few short weeks later, however, the real numbers emerged, and it turns out state revenues are far short of the numbers enthusiastically anticipated by the governor’s office. In fact, the numbers were $92 million apart in April - with the state collecting half the tax revenue gathered the previous year. To add insult to injury, Moody’s announced a downgrade of Kansas’ bond rating “over concerns about the state’s sluggish economic recovery compared with other states and issues with long-term financial obligations.”

But remember, it’s not the governor’s fault, and it’s certainly not the fault of the party that preaches the gospel of personal responsibility. The fault lies with the boogeyman who sits in the Oval Office, far, far away in Washington, D.C.

“What we are seeing today is the effect of tax increases implemented by the Obama administration that resulted in lower income tax payments and a depressed business environment,” Brownback said.

What taxes, exactly, did the president raise in 2013 to undermine the governor’s fool-proof plan to have his cake and eat it too?

A summary of tax increases in 2013 reveals that you likely saw a modest tax increase if you made over $450,000 a year, but in a state where the average annual wage is roughly $42,000, an upper-tier federal income tax increase likely wasn’t felt by most of the state’s residents and couldn’t rightly be blamed for Kansas’ sagging revenue.

But just to be sure, go ahead and ask your friends and neighbors - those who work for a living and have the misfortune of being wage-earners - if they paid more or less in state taxes this year. In most cases, you’ll find the average working Kansan found fewer deductions and credits and paid more in state income taxes. Even small business owners have found that their business losses can’t be used to offset Kansas’ taxes on wages. Some groups enjoyed a tax cut in Kansas, but the evidence shows it wasn’t the state’s working-class people.

But that must be Obama’s fault, too, because if the facts don’t match the message, it’s easier to work people into a lather about the federal government - where Kansans would be wise not to forget is where our governor learned the tricks of his trade.

Yet make no mistake, had the governor’s tax plan worked, had the state found itself rolling in the dough from new businesses, new employees and increased population, there would be no talk of Obama or Washington economic policies. We’d only hear that the governor’s plan was a rousing success that brought prosperity and hope to the state, all thanks to the governor’s grit and determination.

Since that’s not the case, the architects of this fairytale Kansas tax plan simply will point their fingers at their reliable and faithful villain, the president of the United States, and hope Kansans forget who really fed them a poisoned apple.


The Kansas City Star, May 3

Gloomy end to 2014 Kansas legislative session:

The 2014 Kansas legislative session began with craziness and careened toward adjournment against a backdrop of ominous financial news.

Along the way there were a few steps forward, some disasters averted, but a good amount of damage done.

Legislative leaders spent the first few weeks shelving bills that subjected the state to widespread ridicule. Among other things, they involved surrogate parenting, spanking and an attack on fluoridated water. We’ll refrain from a rehash of the embarrassing details.

Lawmakers did find time to focus on a couple of constructive measures:

- They passed a limited mandate requiring health insurers to pay for behavioral therapy sessions for some children with autism.

- They approved a bill making public the evidence that law enforcement uses to charge people with crimes or obtain search warrants. Kansas is the only state to conceal that information.

And the Legislature thankfully rejected some horrible ideas:

- A bill allowing Kansans to deny services to same-sex couples in the name of “religious freedom” passed the House but was denied a hearing in the Senate, though not before it became national news.

- A ridiculous proposal to grant a property tax break to gyms and health clubs was resurrected several times but finally put to rest on Friday.

- In a particularly gratifying move, the Legislature rebuffed a push by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity and others to repeal a state standard that utility companies must obtain 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

But the bright spots of the session, and even the near misses, pale in comparison to some troubling bills passed by the Legislature and already signed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

- Lawmakers created new problems without solving old ones in a massive bill hastily passed to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court order to correct funding inequities among school districts. They took money from schools that serve at-risk students; forfeited future tax revenues so that corporations can provide scholarship funds for certain students to attend private schools; and wiped out due process for teachers.

- The Legislature again refused to make health care available to nearly 100,000 working Kansans by expanding Medicaid. In fact, lawmakers took a step to make expansion more difficult in the future. And they passed a bill enabling Kansas to potentially disassociate itself from federal health care programs and regulations, assuming Congress would agree to simply give the state money and let it run its own show. Given the ups and downs of the state’s KanCare program, that’s an alarming prospect.

- Legislators stripped local governments of any authority to respond to needs in their communities and regulate firearms. Weapons can now be carried openly throughout the state.

The session had a surreal tone, as many legislators chose to ignore the elephant in the statehouse - the fact that Kansas is broke. Its budget is only balanced by drawing down reserves.

That message was driven home … as new figures showed state revenues fell $92.8 million short of projections for April. Fooling almost no one, the Brownback administration blamed the problem on President Barack Obama’s tax policies.

The next day, Moody’s Investors Service lowered the state’s credit rating a notch. It cited “Kansas’ relatively sluggish recovery,” unwise forays into the designated highway fund to balance the budget, an underfunded retirement system, and Brownback’s income tax cuts as reasons for the downgrade.

The fiscal news out of Kansas was so bad that Republican lawmakers in Missouri had to adjust their messaging.

For a couple of years they have insisted that Kansas’ severe income tax cuts will put Missouri in an uncompetitive position. The Missouri Legislature has passed a bill phasing in tax cuts that eventually could cost the state at least $600 million a year. If courts would agree with Gov. Jay Nixon’s contention that the bill contains a major drafting error, the cost could be in the billions.

By the end of the week, Missouri lawmakers were saying that Kansas cut its taxes too quickly and sharply, but their bill is wiser. …

As for Kansas, an end to a legislative session usually brings relief - for lawmakers and citizens. But Kansas’ 2014 session is closing with a growing sense of foreboding.


The Iola Register, May 1

Kansas self-imposes economic hardship:

California’s Gov. Jerry Brown is acting like a Republican.

The staunch Democrat wants to build up the state’s rainy day fund, because an “inevitable recession” is on the horizon, just as sure as tomorrow dawns.

Gov. Brown is taking advantage of the state’s good times. After years of fiscal mayhem, California is on solid ground thanks to its income tax laws that sock it to the super wealthy.

Kansas is a study in contrast.

Our super wealthy get it super easy and our tax laws work against making the state more stable.

Beginning in 2018, any revenue increase above 2 percent automatically triggers more tax cuts.

With that formula, the state won’t be able to keep up with funding Medicaid and KPERS, the state’s retirement program, let alone education, transportation, and all the other programs and agencies that keep a state functioning as it should.

And the idea of saving for a rainy day? Fuhgedaboutit.

As bad as that is, say another recession happens and the bottom drops out on sales and property tax receipts.

A new base is set. Programs are cut.

With the 2 percent rule in effect any significant rebound from those hard times would go to tax cuts, not restoring the cuts to programs, forcing us to dig ourselves into an ever deeper hole of neglect.

Already, the tax cuts have cost Kansas 8 percent of revenue. That’s the equivalent of a mid-sized recession in itself. In five years’ time, the loss is predicted to rise to 16 percent. Kansas, in effect, will self-impose its own economic depression.

The “great experiment” is falling flat. The tax cuts have not boosted the economy. Kansas is adding jobs at a slower rate than the country as a whole. Personal earnings are not increasing at the pace of the national average. The only exception is farmers. And though Gov. Sam Brownback would like to take credit for the end of the drought, that goes to a higher power.

Every indicator points to massive tax cuts and the 2 percent rule will restrict Kansas from adequately funding its schools, public health programs, courts, parks, libraries, employees and infrastructure.

Our hands are not tied; so why do we act like it?

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