- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Topeka Capital-Journal, Nov. 4

Beginning of our state’s recovery

Kansas is slowly emerging from the perpetual fiscal slump that has beggared our state government for the past four years.

At this time last year, Kansas faced a $345 million budget shortfall, along with a projected $582 million shortfall in the following year. In 2016, every month brought alarming news of surging shortfalls and missed revenue estimates, and incoming lawmakers knew they would have to make drastic changes to move the state back toward something resembling a sustainable fiscal policy.

After the 2012 tax cuts were fully implemented, the state’s income tax receipts collapsed by more than $700 million. To appreciate just how much money the state lost in the subsequent years, take a look at the total individual income tax revenue in fiscal year 2013 ($2.9 billion) versus FY 2014 ($2.2 billion), FY 2015 ($2.3 billion), FY 2016 ($2.2 billion) and FY 2017 ($2.3 billion). If income tax receipts would have remained constant from 2013 to 2017, Kansas would have brought in another $2.68 billion in revenue.

Imagine what such a staggering amount of money could have done for the state. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Legislature still isn’t making adequate investments in education, despite a $487 million funding increase (to be phased in over two years) passed in the 2017 session. Alan Rupe is an attorney who represents the school districts that sued for more funding, and he says the state needs to allocate $893 million to K-12 education next year. Many lawmakers argue that such a huge influx is unnecessary, but either way, the revenue Kansas has wasted on its pointless tax experiment could have covered that cost several times over.

On Thursday, the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group released the state’s most recent revenue projections. What a surprise - after the Legislature repealed Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts last session, individual income tax receipts are expected to surge from $2.3 billion in FY 2017 to $2.9 billion in FY 2018 and more than $3 billion in FY 2019 (right back to where they were in 2013). While it may seem obvious that raising income tax rates and getting rid of unfair exemptions would bring in more revenue, you wouldn’t have known it by listening to defenders of the tax cuts over the past few years.

Remember when Brownback administration officials constantly told us that the massive budget shortfalls and missed revenue targets were due to the sluggish performance of the oil, gas and agriculture industries? Those industries are still in a slump (particularly agriculture), but the revenue situation is set to improve dramatically. This suggests that the tax cuts were largely responsible for the state’s budget problems.

However, as former state budget director Duane Goossen notes, “Big changes to tax law can be quite difficult to forecast with precision.” For example, we won’t know how much revenue will be generated by the re-imposition of taxes on LLCs and other forms of business income until next year because “individuals can choose to skip the quarterly payments without risking a penalty, and make one large payment by next April 15.”

Moreover, there’s still an imbalance between the state’s recurring revenue and expenditures, and we’ve assumed hefty obligations (such deferred payments to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System) that will have to be paid off. But we should still recognize that Kansas is in its strongest fiscal position in years, no thanks to the people who would have preferred to keep us in an endless cycle of shortfalls and cuts.


The Wichita Eagle, Nov. 3

Groundbreaking on Eisenhower memorial a time for celebration

We were filled with pride, excitement and anticipation this week as ground was broken for the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Memorial in Washington, D.C.

We’ve waited for years for this moment and navigated through some difficult circumstances as the memorial was designed, but this was a day to celebrate, for Kansas and our entire country.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Thursday morning for a project that is estimated to cost about $145 million.

Eisenhower was our nation’s 34th president, who served as Supreme Allied Commander during World War II. He was from Abilene.

The memorial will be much more than a statue or monument. It will be a four-acre park near the National Mall at the base of Capitol Hill. It will be surrounded by the Department of Education, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Voice of America and the Department of Health and Human Services, all of which are tied to Eisenhower’s legacy.

Eisenhower will be among a select few presidents honored with memorials in Washington, D.C.: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The memorial will include sculptures depicting Eisenhower as a young man in Abilene, as the Supreme Allied Commander and as president. It will also include a tapestry showing a now peaceful image of the D-Day beaches of Normandy, France.

Eisenhower commanded the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, a battle that led to the end to World War II in Europe.

The target date for the memorial park to open is May 8, 2020, the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts was key in helping the memorial become a reality. He is chairman of the memorial board and helped arrange funding, among other things.

“Most of all, the memorial gives Kansas’ favorite son a place of recognition,” Roberts wrote in a column in Thursday’s Eagle. “A place for all Americans present and future to know Eisenhower. A place for the world to know our American values.”

We agree.

Eisenhower famously said in his “Homecoming Speech” in 1945 that “the proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene.”

We are proud Eisenhower was from Kansas. We are proud of his accomplishments in the military and in politics and for the indelible marks he left on our nation and the world.

We will swell further with pride when the memorial honoring Eisenhower opens, allowing even more people to learn of his legacy and his roots in Kansas.


The Kansas City Star, Nov. 5

Talk of amending the Kansas Constitution’s school funding requirement is political hot air

First, conservatives in Kansas who were upset about court orders requiring lawmakers to spend millions more on public schools railed against “activist judges.”

Then they took dead aim at the state Supreme Court, staging a multimillion-dollar campaign last year aimed at removing five judges.

With those efforts failing to produce the desired results, the focus now has shifted to rewriting the Kansas Constitution. One leader of this effort is none other than Ron Ryckman, the Republican House speaker from Olathe.

His target is a single word in the constitution: “suitable,” as in the state must now provide a “suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” Change that word, and it could become more difficult for school districts to successfully sue for more state funds.

Conservatives have long maintained the courts had no business demanding that more money be spent on public schools. That, they said, was the Legislature’s purview. Nonetheless, last month the Kansas Supreme Court determined that the state’s new school finance system was unconstitutional because it didn’t spend enough on education. That ruling was the result of lawsuits filed by beleaguered districts that said the $488 million that lawmakers added to the school pot over two years still fell short.

In the wake of that ruling, some lawmakers have talked openly of defying the Supreme Court’s order rather than coming up with the additional $500 million to $600 million that’s probably needed to satisfy the court.

We understand that we’re talking big dollars here. In a state the size of Kansas, these are sums that require tax increases, and nobody is wild about that, particularly when 2018 is an election year.

But the simple fact is that the state Legislature has failed for years to adequately fund schools, and dozens of lawmakers in Topeka understand that.

Numbers don’t lie. In June, the state was spending $4,006 a student. A decade ago, lawmakers agreed to a base level of $4,492 per student. Adjusted for inflation, that figure would be $5,035 today.

In other words, we’re way short of where the Legislature itself has determined we need to be.

That’s why all this talk about rewriting the state constitution is pure silliness. We should call it what it is, and that’s political kowtowing to the right wing of the Republican Party. That wing is demanding that lawmakers stand up to the court, say “never mind” to the constitution and refuse to go along with all these demands to fund schools.

But the rule of law suggests something else, and so does Kansas’ distinguished heritage, which has long held that quality public schools are priority one.

Conservatives will stomp and snort and bellyache. But at the end of the day, probably shortly before they adjourn the 2018 session, the GOP-led Legislature will adopt a funding formula that will satisfy the court.

What’s happening now is like what happens when kids play a game and decide to come up with their own rules. We should expect more from legislative leaders.

The reality is that Ryckman doesn’t have the votes to pass a constitutional amendment on school funding, and he knows it. Changing the constitution requires a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate, and those votes aren’t there.

In the meantime, consider all this change-the-constitution yak as just more political hot air.

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