- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Hutchinson News, Jan. 12

Governor, again, wants to fill budget hole with children’s funds

For the fourth time, Gov. Sam Brownback has announced his desire to dismantle one of the smartest investments in Kansas history - the Children’s Initiatives Fund - as a way to shore up his leaky budget.

On the heels of a historic lawsuit against tobacco companies, Kansas lawmakers in 1999 established the Kansas Endowment for Youth and the Children's Initiative Fund, with the design that payments from the settlement would pay for children’s programs in the state - forever. Annual payments of between $55 million and $60 million pay for childhood programs such as Parents as Teachers, Infants and Toddlers, Healthy Start and more - and alleviate the burden on taxpayers.

Brownback, however, hopes to securitize the fund by selling it off to Citigroup for a lump sum payment. His budget anticipates raising $530 million by the sell-off of a fund, which would pay upwards of $60 million a year in perpetuity.

Last year, the Kansas Legislature blocked his attempt to dismantle the fund. This year’s Legislature is sure to do the same, without a second thought. Little is more fiscally irresponsible than selling off an asset that creates income year after year after year, simply because the governor has underperformed during his time in office. That this idea requires the literal stealing from children makes it loathsome.

Just consider the simple math. In 10 years, the state will have received in payments what the governor hopes to raise today. In 20 years, twice the amount - over $1 billion - will be routed to childhood programs. These programs are the product of sound leadership by people who recognized the unique circumstances of the day and sought to use a financial windfall in the most helpful and responsible way possible - by making a lifetime investment in future Kansas children. What Brownback proposes would turn annual income for Kansas into, essentially, an annual payment to Citibank.

The repeated efforts by the governor to dismantle these programs and sell them off to a Wall Street bank are indefensible. It’s the worst example of Brownback’s willingness to sacrifice the future well-being of the state - and its children - so he can save his own skin today. Such a practice isn’t consistent with Kansas sensibility, nor is it consistent with any notion of logical or sound financial management.

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The Lawrence Journal-World, Jan. 15

House Republicans made the responsible call in retaining rule to keep spending in check.

Kansas Republicans were right last week to push back on Democrats’ efforts to eliminate the “pay as you go” requirement in the state’s House of Representatives.

PAY-Go, as the Pay As You Go rule is called, was the wrong issue to test the bipartisan sentiment of the House’s new membership. The measure failed on an almost straight party-line vote. That’s as it should be. Facing a budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion in the next 18 months, the last thing the House needs to do is ease the fiscal discipline that PAY-Go requires.

“We’re broke, and there’s no possibility of finding another pot of money to add anything to a budget right now,” Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, who is the new House majority leader, said in standing to oppose the measure.

The PAY-Go rule was adopted in 2011. It requires that, when a spending bill comes to the floor of the House, no amendment can be made to increase spending in one area unless it’s accompanied by a cut of equal or greater size in some other area of the bill.

Members of both parties have been frustrated by the rule, arguing that it gives lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee too much power, because the Appropriations Committee determines the upper limit of the state’s budget. Rep. Henry Helgerson, D-Wichita, offered Thursday’s amendment to end PAY-Go. He said the PAY-Go rule prevents lawmakers who are not on the Appropriations Committee from fully representing the interests of their constituents.

“PAY-Go was put in as a way of controlling the discussion on the floor,” Helgerson said. “We always balanced budgets before this, and we actually did a better job than what’s gone on in the last few years.”

PAY-Go supporters argue that the rule prevents political “gotcha” votes in which members offer amendments to add funding for politically popular programs, even though no funds are available, effectively daring the other side to vote no and provide political fodder for the next election.

Suspending PAY-Go is not the right way to start a legislative session in which the top priority is fixing the state’s badly broken budget. Hopefully Thursday’s party-line vote won’t be a harbinger of things to come and Republicans and Democrats can find common ground on other issues. Hineman sounded optimistic that they could, and that’s a good sign.

“The more important question is, will leadership allow full and open debate, and the bringing of amendments within the framework of PAY-Go, and that hasn’t always been the case in the past,” he said. “I think it will be this time.”

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The Topeka Capital-Journal, Jan. 14

Brownback, Tafanelli response to National Guard allegations raise further questions

It’s been eight days since The Topeka Capital-Journal first reported about serious leadership questions at the Kansas National Guard. Since then, the actions of Adjutant General Lee Tafanelli and Gov. Sam Browback have - far from resolving the issues raised - only created further questions.

Let’s run down what has happened over those days.

Immediately after The Capital-Journal’s report, dozens of comments flooded the newspaper’s website and Facebook page. The writers alleged similar problems from their own experiences. Notably, they did so under their real names. A sampling of these comments appeared in Tuesday’s paper.

State legislators expressed concern about the Guard and its leadership. Reporter Tim Carpenter spoke to legislators with military experience and honors of their own, and some said hearings might be needed. On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, called for careful attention.

“This story is not going to go away,” Hensley said. “There’s more to it than even we now know.”

But Brownback refused to accept the possibility of leadership problems at the Kansas Guard during an editorial advisory board meeting Monday at The Capital-Journal’s office.

Tafanelli issued three statements about the controversy that seemed to come from three different people. The first said the Guard wouldn’t spend its time “rehashing old information.” The second called the story “certainly disturbing” and said “we look forward to providing a more complete accounting of the facts.” Finally, on Friday, he asked the National Guard Bureau to review the Kansas Guard’s investigation.

“Until such time as the National Guard Bureau completes their review, the Kansas National Guard cannot comment further on this issue,” Tafanelli wrote in a statement accompanying the request.

After this slew of events, observers might be forgiven for pausing to take a breath. But after they do, questions can’t help but follow.

What changed for Tafanelli over the past week? Why does he now feel outside review is appropriate when he earlier said allegations of “toxic leadership” were “old information”?

For that matter, why is the adjutant general’s promise of a “more complete accounting of the facts” now replaced by a pledge of no comment until an indefinite future date?

If Tafanelli had such confidence in the Guard’s investigations and actions, why didn’t he take the opportunity to speak with Capital-Journal reporter Tim Carpenter before publication of the story?

Does the governor think this outside review is appropriate? If it ends up supporting the Kansas Guard’s own internal findings, would it change his opinion of Tafanelli’s leadership?

Will lawmakers take this opportunity to ask tough questions of the state’s Guard leadership? If, as Hensley suggested, there are revelations still to come, what kind of oversight should state residents expect from their elected officials?

We can’t answer these questions. But leaders at the Guard, in the Statehouse and inside the governor’s office should.

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The Wichita Eagle, Jan. 15

Budget plan kicks the can

No wonder Gov. Sam Brownback mentioned few budget details in his State of the State address last Tuesday. His budget plan relies on more gimmicks and fund transfers, as well as tax increases that disproportionately affect lower-income Kansans.

As Senate GOP leaders complained, it merely kicks the budget can down the road.

Brownback was vague in his address about the budget problems facing the state and his plans to solve them. He referred to an “imbalance between state revenues and expenditures” - rather than a budget shortfall of more than $900 million over the next 18 months.

He also promised a “structurally balanced” budget plan that “reconciles spending with available revenue.”

But the budget that his administration released the next day looks a lot like his previous budgets. It relies on fund transfers, borrowing and other one-time money to plug the budget shortfall, and it fails to address the root problem: that his tax policies have left the state short of revenue.

Brownback’s stopgap measures include liquidating a long-term investment fund and selling off the state’s future proceeds from its tobacco lawsuit settlement. Brownback also wants to continue raiding money from the state's highway fund (about $600 million over the next two and a half years) and shortchanging the state pension plan (about $600 million over the next three years).

These are the types of desperate financial moves that institutions make when they are headed toward bankruptcy.

Brownback also said in his address that he would propose “modest, targeted revenue measures.” But his call to increase taxes on cigarettes and alcohol would mostly target low- and middle-income Kansans.

Lawmakers weren’t impressed by Brownback’s budget, but they also are in a bind.

The state has less than six months left in the current fiscal year, so there is little time to implement budget cuts. As a result, the state likely may need to rely on some one-time money to help get through this fiscal year.

But lawmakers are tired of the recurring budget problems - and Brownback’s tired claims that his tax policies are working.

About a third of state lawmakers are new this session, and most of them oppose all or parts of Brownback’s tax policies. Many of the returning lawmakers also are ready to change course.

Brownback’s budget is the same old, same old. Instead of solving the state’s fiscal problems, it pushes the problems to the future - where they could grow even worse.

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