- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Manhattan Mercury, Aug. 18

USD 383’s request easily justified

Kansas school districts have long since learned that it’s tough to get money from the state. Meeting students’ needs may even have gotten more difficult with the Legislature’s adoption of the block-grant school funding method, which gives short shrift to reallife issues such as enrollment increases and steep drops in property value.

There is some emergency assistance now available; $12.3 million. Trouble is, 38 school districts, including the Manhattan-Ogden School District, have put in requests that exceed $15 million. The State Finance Council, whose members include Gov. Sam Brownback and legislative leaders, will review the requests and distribute the money as they deem wise.

Manhattan is asking for $498,000 to offset a projected enrollment increase of 125 students. That’s a valid request that comes to about $3,980 per pupil. Garden City is using the same formula in seeking $478,000 for an expected increase of 120 students. Garden City, which also seeks more than $600,000 to offset property tax losses, is one of three districts seeking emergency funding both because of enrollment increases and property tax revenue declines.

The single largest request is coming from the Kansas City, Kansas, School District. It seeks more than $2 million to offset massive enrollment increases. The Wichita School District is asking for $980,000 to hire additional teachers because of an influx of refugees from Asia and Africa.

Manhattan officials have a good case for their request; the needs in this district are legitimate, and the officials have responded appropriately to shortfalls that stem directly from inadequate state funding. School board members already have trimmed $1 million from the district’s budget, know they face further spending cuts and have sought - and won - voter approval to boost Local Option Budget authority.

Whether that will be enough to persuade state officials to provide at least some of the amount the district requests won’t be known until next week, when the State Finance Council announces its decisions.

“If there’s a real extraordinary need, that’s what the money is for,” state Sen. Ty Masterson, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, told the Associated Press.

We don’t doubt that all of these districts’ needs are extraordinary, as were the needs of districts that sought similar assistance in the spring. What seems extraordinary is that the Legislature, which is required by the state Constitution to ensure an adequate education for Kansas children, would allow some of these extraordinary needs to go unmet.

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Wichita Eagle, Aug. 15

Ax the food sales tax

Kansas is the king of taxing groceries.

Kansas should be ashamed of itself for still charging full sales tax on food.

And it is, judging from how hard lawmakers tried to include a partial remedy in this year’s budget-and-tax deal.

Yet the 2015 Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback ended up making the bad situation worse, increasing not only this regressive tax but the state’s reliance on it to balance the budget.

The annual cost in state revenues of a full exemption - $100 million in 1990, when the statewide sales tax rate was 4.25 percent - was an estimated $392.5 million before the rate rose from 6.15 to 6.5 percent last month.

And with the state’s fiscal condition still shaky at best - and further ratcheting down state income tax rates the top priority of the governor and GOP legislative leaders - June’s promises to redouble the efforts to roll back or eliminate the state’s taxation of food sales risk being forgotten by January. But they shouldn’t be.

Kansas is among only seven states that tax food for home preparation at the full sales tax rate. The latest hike gave Kansas a combined state and average local sales tax rate of 8.59 percent, according to the Tax Foundation - the nation’s seventh-highest combined state and local sales tax rate. None of the states with higher combined rates charges as much as Kansas’ 6.5 percent rate on food statewide.

And though technically Mississippi still has the highest food sales tax among the 50 states, 7 percent statewide, the Tax Foundation puts its combined state and average sales tax rate at just 7.07 percent.

That makes Kansas the king of taxing groceries overall, though there are mostly rural places that still lack a county or city sales tax. People in the Wichita area pay combined rates ranging from 7.5 to 9 percent for food as basic as milk, bread, fruit and vegetables.

The poorest Kansans still may qualify for food stamps, and the food sales tax rebate program axed in 2012 was revived the next year as an income-tax credit. But those too poor to owe income taxes do not benefit. And the paperwork is a deterrent, whereas across-the-board exemption of groceries would benefit everybody at the checkout stand.

Kansas has talked about this long enough. Exempting food was even part of the debate that led to establishment of a 2 percent statewide sales tax in 1938. Yet the political will to correct that mistake has never prevailed any of the eight times lawmakers have raised the statewide sales tax since 1958. (Nine if you count the 2013 decision not to drop the rate to 5.7 percent as scheduled.)

Groups such as KC Healthy Kids and legislators such as Sens. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, and Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, haven’t given up.

Brownback now should make this cause his own as well, especially after having just raised the food sales tax while defending his exemption of income taxes for 330,000 business owners.

It’s wrong to keep leaning harder on consumption taxes to pay the state’s bills without making an exception for food.

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Lawrence Journal World, Aug. 19

Guns and bars

If bar owners want to ban concealed weapons in their businesses, signs stating that policy are a good place to start.

Local bars that haven’t posted no-gun signs might want to rethink that decision.

A state law that went into effect July 1 does away with concealed-carry licensing requirements. That means people no longer have to undergo background checks or take a gun training course to legally carry a gun concealed in a handbag or pocket. The law still allows bars and other private businesses to ban concealed weapons on their premises and put up signs notifying customers of that policy.

Interestingly, a recent Journal-World check found that most drinking establishments in Lawrence have decided not to post such signs. As concealed-carry advocates have pointed out, a sign may not keep someone from bringing a gun to a bar, but it gives bar owners some leverage if they decide to ask someone carrying a concealed gun to leave. Signs indicating guns are not allowed also may help reduce the bar’s liability if an incident involving a gun occurs.

Not posting signs doesn’t mean bar owners are OK with people carrying concealed guns in their businesses. Several said they still planned to deny service to customers with concealed weapons and ask them to leave. Businesses have a legal right to do that, but it only works when they know someone is carrying, which often is not apparent.

Many gun advocates have expressed concern and even lobbied against the elimination of concealed-carry licensing requirements. Under the new law, people no longer are required to have a background check or show they know how to handle a gun safely - anytime, let alone when they are consuming alcohol.

As one local bar owner told the Journal-World, “Alcohol and guns just don’t mix well.” That’s acknowledged by the fact that state law still makes it illegal to carry a weapon while intoxicated.

Posting no-gun signs isn’t a perfect solution, but it might eliminate a few confrontations and provide a good starting place for bar owners who don’t want guns in their businesses. If “no guns” is the policy of the bar, it makes sense to post the signs and make that policy known.

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Leavenworth Times, July 18

The city of Lansing wants its residents to be informed about the inner workings of municipal government and is creating a way for them to do it.

For the sixth straight year, the city will feature the Citizen’s Academy to help residents know more about how the local government works.

The eight-month program is designed to provide insight into how various city departments operate.

Residents should consider taking part in the program, which is being offered at no cost.

There certainly will not be much of a time commitment - only two hours per month. Classes will be held once a month beginning in September and run through April 2016. The classes will be held on the fourth Wednesday of each month from 6-8 p.m.

The program is open to any Lansing resident or business owner 18-over, but residents who are interested need to be aware that the class size is extremely limited. Only 15 people will be selected to participate in this year’s class.

Applications can be obtained at the Lansing City Hall, 800 1st Terr. You can also apply online on the city’s website, www.lansing.ks.us. Applications are due by 5 p.m. Sept. 16. To find out more about the program, call the city at 913-727-5488.

The city of Lansing should be applauded for its outreach to the community by opening its doors to the public. That kind of outreach only strengthens a community.

Residents who participate will come away from the experience with a deeper understanding of how municipal government works, and that’s never a bad thing.


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