- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Wichita Eagle, May 29

The school-funding provision in the Kansas Constitution contains no exemptions for political winds, tax-cut quests or even hard times. It’s the Kansas Supreme Court’s somber and unenviable job to hold the state to its responsibility to public school districts and their students.

Friday’s decision did so, finding that the law passed in March to fix inequities in the distribution of supplemental general state aid would create “intolerable, and simply unfair, wealth-based disparities among the districts.”

It ordered the Legislature to find another remedy that will bring the school-funding system into compliance with the constitution by restoring equity, which might require coming up with another $40 million. Thank goodness the court didn’t buy the state’s argument that local option budget funding could be suspended in its entirety until the 2017 Legislature convenes. That $1 billion cut statewide would have caused havoc for districts including Wichita, which already is cutting jobs and programs because of the failure of the state’s two-year block grants to keep up with increased costs.

Failure to heed the ruling should not be an option at the Statehouse, given the court’s June 30 deadline and the potential for a funding interruption to disrupt preparations for the next school year.

Current GOP legislative leaders and Gov. Sam Brownback risked this trouble by decimating the tax base in their misguided 2012 effort to eliminate state income taxes. The constitution cannot be set aside, along with students’ best interests, because the state is now struggling to cover its budget. And complying with the court would be no problem, of course, if the Legislature and Brownback maintained the 7.5 percent ending balance required by state law and had $485 million to spare.

None of state leaders’ serial excuses has held up, in court or otherwise - such as that schools are amply funded and great, that schools are terrible and need wholesale reform, that passing responsible laws is politically hard, and that the problem is really the Supreme Court and especially four of the justices up for retention votes in November.

Those on the losing side of any court decision can be expected to be unhappy, but it was irresponsible for leaders of the stature of Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, to raise the issue of the justices’ retention election in their statements on the ruling.

Ominously, this high-stakes showdown over what Attorney General Derek Schmidt observed is “less than 1 percent of the education budget” leaves the Gannon v. Kansas lawsuit’s bigger-dollar question of funding adequacy to be decided by the court.

But if the phrase “make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state” means whatever the Legislature says it means, it means nothing. The court was playing its constitutional role with its latest ruling.

At some point in the next month, whether at Wednesday’s “sine die” adjournment or in a special session called by the governor, the Legislature needs to try again to do its job.

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Lawrence Journal-World, May 25

(Earlier this month), while signing into law new limits on public assistance programs, Gov. Sam Brownback reiterated his contention that reducing benefits would help people get “out of poverty” and “back into the labor force.”

Just a few days later, however, a new report from the Kansas Department of Labor showed why that might be easier said than done.

In just one month, from March to April, Kansas lost 3,700 nonfarm jobs and 3,000 private-sector jobs, with the largest decreases occurring in the leisure and hospitality sector. Compared with April of 2015, the state had 800 more private-sector jobs but, overall, had 600 fewer seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs.

The Department of Labor news release on the report focused on the fact that the state’s unemployment rate had edged down from 3.9 percent in March to 3.8 percent in April. That sounds like a small step in the right direction, but the fact that unemployment is dropping while the number of jobs also is down seems to indicate that a number of Kansans have simply given up on finding a job or have taken the job search to another state.

The Brownback administration has consistently emphasized private-sector jobs numbers as opposed to overall numbers, which include government jobs. The rationale is that losing government jobs is a result of smaller government and is acceptable as long as private-sector jobs are increasing.

In many cases, however, state spending cuts prompted by revenues that are coming in well below estimates also have an impact on private-sector jobs. Just one example is the 25 highway modernization and expansion projects that have been put on hold as a result of funding sweeps from the Kansas Department of Transportation. Because of the loss of those funds, KDOT has been forced to delay $271 million worth of work on 14 projects for the fiscal year that begins on July 1 and another $247 million for nine projects scheduled for the following year. Those projects would have funded a lot of private-sector jobs in the state’s construction industry.

Employment data showing that Kansas had job growth of less than 1 percent from March 2015 to March 2016 was one factor noted by Moody’s Investors Service last week when it put the state’s economic outlook in the “negative” category. It’s just another piece of evidence that state policies that included large income tax cuts simply aren’t having the favorable impact that Brownback promised to the people of Kansas.

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Hays Daily News, May 25

Not that long ago, the political landscape of Kansas featured three factions: Conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans and Democrats. Inside the Statehouse, Democrats have never been so plentiful as to afford distinct wings.

It might not have been the ideal arrangement, but it worked. When issues of importance to the GOP needed passing, the two Republican wings worked together. When something was necessary for all Kansans, the Democrats and moderate Republicans forged alliances.

Everything changed in 2010 when a surge of conservative Republicans won all the statewide races and the Gov. Sam Brownback era began. Two years later Brownback led efforts to purge the party of as many moderates as he could.

It worked. Well, as good as one would expect a three-legged stool to balance with one massive leg and two spindly ones. Most voters didn’t notice or care the stool fell over, and re-elected most everybody who ran in 2014.

Taking these results as a mandate, conservative Republicans reconstructed the state budget using a similar blueprint. They enacted new laws that undid the three-legged stool of revenues, which were balanced among property, income and sales taxes. The income tax leg was sawed down to a nub while the sales tax leg grew to record heights.

Unable to balance, the stool fell over.

People are noticing this time. Lower-income workers, the underemployed and the unemployed all saw credits, exemptions and benefits disappear. Public schools and universities had cuts in funding. So did hospitals, mental health facilities, law enforcement agencies and arts programs. Early childhood programs are disappearing.

So much money has been swiped from the Department of Transportation private contractors are avoiding the state as projects get delayed and shelved. State pension payments are being skipped, money is being borrowed to pay for current operating expenses, IOUs are being issued.

The state’s being run on payday loans and huge interest payments while the governor and legislative leaders tell us everything is fine. And anything that isn’t fine is the fault of lower oil prices or President Barack Obama.

Everything is not fine - and we know who ruined it. And with all 165 seats of the Kansas Legislature up for election this year, Kansans have their remedy at-hand.

Or do they? With the filing deadline for candidates next Wednesday, we’re not so sure wholesale change is possible.

Granted, there are 40 contested primaries on the Republican side. With their fewer numbers, Democrats have only six contested races thus far for the August election.

But get this. There are 64 candidates filed that have no primary opposition. Another 64 listed on the Secretary of State Office’s website have no opposition in the primary - or in November’s general election. Unbelievably, there are four House districts and one Senate district that have zero people running.

More than likely there will be a flurry of last-minute filings. There are a number of incumbents missing from the list.

But we only can hope there are even more level-headed individuals with a calling to serve waiting in the wings. We need carpenters who understand the necessity of equal legs to make stools balance. Piles of splinters are of little use for anything except starting fires.

Unless Kansas voters reject a majority of sitting legislators, that fire is about to be set. Don’t let the state burn to the ground before you pay attention to what’s happening in Topeka. Then it will be too late.

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Dodge City Daily Globe, May 19

Garrett Love is not running for re-election of his Kansas Senate seat.

Dodge City Representative Bud Estes has announced he will run for the Senate seat.

With Estes’ seat opening up, now’s the time for a new voice in Topeka, someone with fresh ideas, a new take on things.

If Love’s stint in the Kansas Senate showed us anything, it was that young men have a different view of the future, the current state of affairs and what needs to be done to improve on both. He’s stepping away from the Legislature to be with his young family - cementing our opinion of what kind of man and politician he is.

With that, we’d love to see someone like Love - young, excited about the future, concerned with the status quo - earn the trust of voters and become Dodge City’s new voice in the House at Topeka.

However this all shakes out in the next few months of election season, the time is right for a political newcomer. Someone who goes into Topeka realizing a lot of bills introduced in the Kansas Legislature do not favor rural areas, but more often than not are geared to help the metropolitan areas of our state.

Candidates for Estes’ representative seat need to have their eyes wide open from the start. School funding, future budgets and working with others for the betterment of our region and state are paramount. Blindly following party lines isn’t representing citizens, it’s representing a political party.

This is Dodge City. We have a long-standing history of fighting for what’s right.

We believe Estes will make a good state senator for us. He’s kept southwest Kansas and Dodge City front-and-center when voting and we believe that would continue in the Kansas Senate. He has proven himself to be a good voice for us in the Legislature.

Our new legislators should work together. Hopefully a joint venture might be in recruiting a big box store - Lowe’s, Shopko, Kmart - to expand to our region.

Love will be missed, but we trust he is making the best decision for his family. We hope, in the future, he may get back into politics and represent our region once more.

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