- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Wichita Eagle, Feb. 19

It would be a mistake for Brownback to veto the Legislature’s tax bill.

The Kansas House and Senate acted responsibly last week in addressing the state’s ongoing budget shortfall.

Now Gov. Sam Brownback should do the same.

Lawmakers approved a bill that reverses some of the tax cuts that created most of the budget problems. The bill eliminates the tax exemption on pass-through business income. It also increases some personal income tax rates, including restoring a third tax bracket.

The tax increases won’t be enough to cover the entire budget shortfall - which now totals about $900 million over the next 17 months. But it helps restore the state’s revenue base and makes the remaining budget cuts more reasonable.

As Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, noted in supporting the bill, “We’ve got to get out of the negative situation on our budget.”

The tax increases help do that.

Lawmakers who voted against the bill complained that the state should cut spending, not raise taxes. But those lawmakers have had years to propose and pass budget cuts.

Instead, they have raided the state highway fund and delayed payments to the state pension plan. The gimmicks and delays made the budget problems worse.

Kansas voters spoke loud and clear last election that they wanted a real fix. They want schools adequately funded, and polls show that a large majority think it is unfair that about 330,000 farmers and business owners have a tax exemption, especially when the state can’t pay its bills.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, seemed to accept this call for change. She wrote in a commentary last week that Brownback’s budget plan was “neither structurally sound nor fiscally conservative.” She also vowed that the Senate would not “kick this can down the road any longer.”

That’s what the Senate sought to do Friday in approving the tax increases - but without Wagle’s vote.

The bill now faces a big hurdle: Brownback.

He opposes the bill and has threatened to veto it. That would be a mistake.

Brownback’s budget plan does not have support in the Legislature. In fact, it couldn’t even clear a Senate committee.

A separate Senate proposal to cut funding to K-12 schools and higher education lacked enough support to even merit a vote on the Senate floor.

There doesn’t appear to be an alternative plan that could pass both chambers.

If Brownback wants to help Kansas climb out of its budget hole, he should respect the will of the Legislature and allow the bill to become law, with or without his signature.


The Salina Journal, Feb.20

Vote on gun issue unfortunate

If Kansas lawmakers insist on allowing people to carry concealed firearms at the University of Kansas Medical Center, there’s virtually no chance the Legislature will prohibit them on college or university campuses.

That’s unfortunate, because concealed weapons don’t belong at any of those places.

A tie vote Wednesday on a measure in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee to ban concealed carry at the KU Medical Center doomed what was perhaps the best chance opponents had of preventing adults from being allowed to carry concealed weapons into hospitals or on college campuses.

It’s not surprising, but it’s nevertheless disappointing, that Kansans trying to undo provisions of state laws that had expanded concealed carry to college campuses, hospitals and mental health clinics - and all but eliminated restrictions on adults carrying concealed weapons - have been unsuccessful at every turn. Earlier this session, a Senate committee turned away a broader bill.

They can take some consolation in being able to defeat efforts Wednesday by gun rights’ advocates to require landlords of government subsidized housing to allow tenants to have guns and to require private businesses in developments financed even in part with state sales tax money to allow concealed weapons in their businesses.

As have so many other debates about guns, the vote to keep concealed weapons out of the KU Med Center came down to arguments about the Second Amendment and public safety. The victors Wednesday said that the Second Amendment gives them the right to take their guns into the medical center and that guns in the hands of decent people there and elsewhere would make other people safer. The alternate argument is that Second Amendment rights are not absolute, that hospitals already are safe and that bringing guns into them enhances risks, not safety.

To be fair, hospitals and colleges have had an alternative to having to permit the presence of concealed weapons. Those include additional personnel and scanners that could detect weapons at every entrance of every building.

But as the writers of the Family and Personal Protection Act surely knew when they introduced it, such security measures at universities and hospitals would be so expensive as to be alternatives in name only.


The Hutchinson News, Feb. 17

Get over the past; let hemp be our next cash crop

An antiquated and unnecessary law is preventing the development of a cash crop that could help farmers in Southwest Kansas who struggle to farm in the arid region that sees little water and an aquifer that is drying up.

Hemp - a plant that got caught up in the effort to criminalize marijuana in the 1930s - could offer a measure of relief to farmers who aren’t finding much success with corn, milo and wheat, thanks to low prices and tough growing conditions in the corner of the state.

That could change, however, if the Kansas Legislature would let go of the past and open the door to effective research on the production of industrial hemp. With a change in the law, farmers would be allowed to grow the plant - which is hardy and requires little water - and markets could be developed for the plant’s use. The federal government with the Farm Bill of 2014 has already opened the door to such research.

Hemp has long been used in a number of consumer products. Paper, clothing, rope, even a form of plastic can be developed from the plant. But misguided policy has prevented farmers from raising and selling the plant, even while it’s a product grown in other countries.

The Agricultural Industry Growth Act in the Kansas House would allow Kansas farmers to grow the crop and allow researchers at Kansas State University to explore the plant’s varieties as well as identify industrial uses for hemp.

It’s long overdue, and the Legislature should pass this bill. It’s not marijuana, and it’s use in an industrial setting in no way moves us closer to legalization of marijuana - even though that should happen as well. With traditional crops at such abysmal prices, farmers, especially those in the harshest areas of the state, need an alternative crop that can be grown inexpensively. Hemp is a viable option that likely would thrive where other crops struggle.

Concerns raised by law enforcement - that the language of the bill might lead to legalization of marijuana and that officers might struggle to enforce the state’s drug laws - are overstated The state’s drug laws and the ability of farmers to grow a legal crop are two distinctly different issues.

Besides, officers routinely deal with changes in the law, the addition of laws or the altering of enforcement practices. This will be no different. The issue of expanding the agricultural industry in Kansas shouldn’t be mired down in a debate about drug policy.

It’s long past time that farmers be given the chance to explore a crop that might produce revenue outside of the state’s traditional crops. The only reason this crop is illegal is that it was lumped in with hallucinogenic drugs during a hysterical phase in American history.

Meanwhile, other countries are growing and profiting from a crop that could do well in Kansas.


The Lawrence Journal-World, Feb. 14

A competing facility in Johnson County could be good for Kansas.

Building a major airport in Johnson County is definitely an idea the state of Kansas should be exploring. The benefits of such an airport could be significant for the state.

Discussions about renovating Kansas City International Airport - which is north of Kansas City on the Missouri side of the border - have stalled. Airlines don’t like the three-terminal setup at Kansas City International and would prefer a single terminal. But residents prefer the ease of access into and out of the airport as it is currently designed and have balked at public funding for a renovation.

Speaking to the Kansas City Star, Gov. Sam Brownback said that Kansas City’s reluctance could be a major economic opportunity for Kansas.

“Airlines are requesting construction of a new single terminal airport at (KCI), and the state of Kansas is continually looking for new economic development opportunities,” Brownback said in an email. “With more than 50 percent of (KCI) passengers coming from Kansas, we are exploring the possibilities of this project.”

According to a 2015 economic impact statement prepared for the Kansas City Aviation Department by Unison Consulting Inc., the airport had total economic impact of $5.02 billion in the 17-county area it serves, directly and indirectly generated more than 41,000 area jobs and produced more than $1.41 billion in income. More than 11 million people traveled through the airport last year and the airport has experienced traffic growth for 32 consecutive months, the Kansas City Aviation Department reports.

Demand for air travel is on the rise. Airports in Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Orlando are undertaking major renovation and expansion projects. If Kansas City can’t put together a plan for the airport, that could certainly open the door for Kansas and Johnson County.

Given the numbers at stake, it makes sense for Kansas to at least explore options for a competing or replacement airport project.

No doubt, it would be a costly endeavor that would be years in the planning and execution. But in the end it’s an idea that could fly and the Brownback administration is right to explore it.

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