Topeka — Realtors from across the state gathered Wednesday just outside Gov. Sam Brownback's office in the Statehouse to rally in opposition to a proposal by the governor to eliminate the homeowner mortgage interest and property tax deductions.
Brownback has said removing the deductions are needed to balance the budget and ratchet down the state personal income tax in future years.
Realtors say elimination of the deductions will hurt hundreds of thousands of Kansans and send the housing market into a tailspin.
Topeka — A prayer list put out by the Capitol Commission, which is dedicated to spreading the teachings of Jesus Christ, calls for praying for "dark spiritual areas" of Kansas, including Lawrence.
In a one-page list of Capitol Prayers being passed around the Statehouse recently, prayer is urged for a number of Kansas leaders, including Gov. Sam Brownback and his staff, and for those who are ill or facing adversity within the Legislature and state government.
The list also states under the heading Intercessor's Challenge: "Target prayer for dark spiritual areas of SE Kansas, Lawrence, KCKS, North Johnson County — ask God to restore the land."
Dave DePue, the Kansas pastor for Capitol Commission, said the prayer was to improve the economies in those areas.
"We just seem to be stalled in getting this economy turned around," DePue said, although he added that Lawrence seems to be doing well economically.
Asked about the term "dark spiritual area," he said, "I don't know whether that is worded right, because Lawrence isn't losing population."
The list also included a prayer for the judicial system and asking God "to provide wisdom for restructuring the Kansas selection process."
DePue is a full-time volunteer for Capitol Commission and is often seen around the Statehouse. He often prays with Brownback and legislators. He said he takes requests from legislators and others to put the prayer list together.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he didn't think it was appropriate to refer "to certain areas of the state as dark spiritual areas."
Animal rights advocates from across Kansas converged Monday on the Statehouse in support of legislation to protect pets, including the elimination of carbon monoxide chambers used to euthanize animals.
"Legislators are recognizing that animal welfare is a high priority issue that enjoys bipartisan support from Kansas voters," said Midge Grinstead, Kansas director of the Humane Society of the United States. Grinstead is the former director of the local humane society.
Humane Lobby Day participants were meeting with state legislators, urging passage of Senate Bill 57, called the Kansas Pet Animal Act.
The bill would establish annual inspections of licensed pet breeding facilities, shelters, research facilities and other licensees, and end the use of carbon monoxide chambers that are currently used to euthanize animals in certain shelters. The Humane Society says that a direct lethal injection is the most humane method of euthanasia available. Nineteen states have banned carbon monoxide chambers.
Kansas ranks 33rd in The Humane Society of the United States' 2012 rankings of animal protection laws.
Topeka — A program aimed at getting college graduates to settle in rural areas of Kansas has been popular, a state official said Monday.
Chris Harris, a program manager with the Kansas Department of Commerce, briefed members of the Senate Commerce Committee, on a program that offers up to $15,000 in student loan repayment of qualified individuals. . Since the program was launched July 1, 2011, there have been 686 applications from 37 states. Of those, 374 applications have been approved, and $376,418 has been paid out.
"For many of them this was the deciding factor," Harris said of the program. "This made it more attractive to live in rural Kansas," he said.
The proposal was part of an initiative pushed by Gov. Sam Brownback called Rural Opportunity Zones. It includes another incentive, which is a waiver of state income tax for up to five years for someone who has lived outside the state for five years.
Harris said it is too early to tell how that is working because the first year of the waiver is for tax year 2012, which people are claiming now.
The tax waiver was established in 50 counties, and counties could decide whether to participate in the student loan repayment, since counties had to provide half of the repayment. Most of the 50 counties are in western and southeast Kansas. Forty-six of the 50 counties are doing the student repayment program.
The top three fields of graduates whose applications were approved were education, 159; health care, 131; and agriculture, 55.
Opposition to the statewide ban on smoking indoors in most public places, which went into effect July 1, 2010, came from restaurant and bar owners who said it would hurt their businesses.
A new analysis by the Kansas Health Institute says the ban hasn't negatively affected food and liquor sales in restaurants and bars.
Here is a link to the report http://bit.ly/W4xwVc
A bill that would prevent unions from using funds collected by payroll deduction in political activities will be considered today.
The Kansas National Education Association calls House Bill 2023 "the first official salvo in a possible war on teachers."
A hearing on the measure is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. before the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee. The hearing will be held in room 346-South in the Statehouse.
The KNEA says that the bill would prevent the association from spending money on elections for school bonds, school board, the Legislature, governor or to urge association members to vote for pro-public education candidates.
Here is a link to the bill http://bit.ly/VrwFLV
Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman on Tuesday called for the repeal of Kansas corporate farming laws.
His comments came at a meeting where Gov. Sam Brownback and his Cabinet members were briefing legislators.
As he left the meeting, Brownback was asked what he thought of Rodman's remark. Brownback, who appointed Rodman to the ag secretary position, said he would outline his legislative agenda during his State of the State speech tonight.
But Brownback added that the state is trying to recruit businesses to rural areas and state regulations have been a problem.
"That is an issue for a number of them (businesses), given the structure of agriculture, particularly the structure of animal agriculture," he said.
Rodman has urged fewer restrictions before. Last year, he said Kansas had a history of turning away certain types of agriculture, particularly corporate hog farms.
"By reshaping our corporate agriculture laws, we can open Kansas up to the economic development these operations bring and become more competitive with other states. These industries are now modern, efficient and excellent corporate citizens," he said.
During his remarks to legislators, Brownback told them they are on the front end of changing government. State government must be more competitive, providing the best services at the lowest cost or people will go elsewhere, he said.
U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, who has recently made national headlines in his political battles with U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was in the Statehouse on Monday where he used to serve as a state legislator.
Huelskamp, who represents the Big First, which goes from the western Kansas border all the way to Manhattan and Emporia, took questions about getting removed from the House Agriculture Committee and upcoming battles over raising the debt ceiling.
Asked if there could be a government shutdown if Congress and President Barack Obama fail to agree on a plan to raise the federal government's borrowing limit, Huelskamp said, "There certainly could be if folks aren't serious about the problem."
Huelskamp said Congress needs to adopt something similar to the so-called "cap, cut and balance" plan that he and other tea party-backed Republicans put together in 2011. The plan included large spending cuts and adoption by Congress of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget. Obama had said he would veto that plan if it ever landed on his desk.
Huelskamp said House Republicans will meet for a private retreat Wednesday through Friday to come up with strategies and proposals in tax and budget fights.
He said conservatives are upset about the direction of the House and that Speaker Boehner needs to come up with a plan. "The onus is on him to produce good Republican legislation," Huelskamp said.
Last month, the Republican Steering Committee, chaired by Boehner, removed several Republicans, who occasionally bucked leaders, from their committees, including Huelskamp from the Ag Committee.
Huelskamp said he was removed because of his staunchly conservative views. Boehner's office has denied this. Politico reported that one conservative close to party leaders said Huelskamp and the others were removed because they didn't work well with other members.
Huelskamp, whose district is dominated by agriculture, said that while he would prefer to keep his place on the committee, he can work on ag issues in other ways, including his membership on the House Small Business Committee.
Huelskamp was among 12 House Republicans who either abstained or voted against re-electing Boehner as speaker. During the House vote, a photograph published by Politico showed Huelskamp working on an iPad with a document on the screen that had the names of representatives that he hoped would oppose Boehner.
Asked if his run-ins with Boehner could hurt Kansas, Huelskamp said, "If the speaker would like to be petty and vindictive, I mean he might try to do that, but media like yourself are watching very closely, looking for those kinds of things, and we'll be reporting if we think he's punishing Kansas because he doesn't like what people say."
Topeka — As legislators gather today for the start of the 2013 session, one of the main budget issues is whether to make permanent the 6.3 percent state sales tax, which under current law is set to fall to 5.7 percent on July 1.
Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, has talked about the possibility of extending the 6.3 percent levy as the state grapples with budget shortfalls caused by income tax cuts he signed into law.
But if he wants to do that, he may not get any help from Democrats.
In the depths of the "Great Recession," a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans in 2010 approved increasing the state sales tax from 5.3 percent to 6.3 percent to avoid deeper budget cuts .
Under the law, the increased rate holds for three years and then falls to 5.7 percent, with four-tenths of one cent going toward paying for transportation projects. Many of those moderate Republicans and Democrats who voted for the temporary sales tax increase were defeated at the polls.
Since Republicans hold significant majorities in the Legislature — 92-33 in the House and 32-8 in the Senate — it is possible to make the temporary sales tax permanent without Democratic votes. But that would require the votes of some Republicans who have pledged to oppose tax increases.
"There isn't any amount of political spin that the governor or those legislators who adamantly opposed the sales tax increase can put on this. If they want to extend the tax increase, it is a tax increase pure and simple," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.
Asked if Democrats might face the dilemma of cutting programs they support or voting to extend the tax, Hensley said, "Sam Brownback wants to extend the sales tax to pay for his income tax cut. Let there be no misunderstanding about this at all."
Even last year, Brownback had proposed that the state keep the 6.3 percent rate to offset income tax cuts.
He has argued that cutting income taxes does more to stimulate the economy than lowering the sales tax.
Keeping the sales tax at 6.3 percent would raise approximately $250 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The gap between current state spending and projected revenue for the next fiscal year is already weighing in at $700 million.
Gov. Sam Brownback announced Tuesday he has formed the Kansas Humanitarian Commission, which will recognize Kansans and Kansas groups for their global and local charitable efforts.
Brownback has asked Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and Ashleigh Black to co-chair the commission.
Colyer, a physician, has volunteered for more than 20 years through the International Medical Corps to bring medical care in war-torn areas. Black is associate director of the George Washington Center for Global Health in Washington, D.C.
Colyer and Black will name the remaining members of the commission, which will set up an annual Kansas Governor's Humanitarian of the Year award.
GOP tax plans would increase taxes on low-wage Kansans, decrease taxes for high-income Kansans, report says
Topeka — Taxes will increase for low-wage Kansans and decrease for those with higher incomes under plans being considered by Republican state legislators, according to a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy looked at the various proposals before the Legislature that essentially increase the state sales tax while ratcheting down the income tax and reducing deductions.
Currently, the state sales tax of 6.3 percent is scheduled to decrease to 5.7 percent on July 1. But Gov. Sam Brownback wants to keep the rate at 6.3 percent, saying that will stabilize the state budget and help buy down income tax rates.
A Senate GOP plan to keep the rate at 6.25 percent, while lowering income tax rates, would result in a tax increase for 60 percent of Kansans, making $60,000 per year or less, the ITEP analysis shows. Of that group, the largest percentage increase would be for those making $20,000 per year or less.
But those making more than $60,000 per year would realize a tax cut under the proposals. ITEP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group. Its stated mission is to provide information on tax policies, tax fairness, government budgets and sound economic policy.
Topeka — The Tea-party affiliated FreedomWorks is urging Kansas legislators to reject Common Core reading and math standards.
"Help us protect Kansan students from Common Core," Whitney Neal, director of grassroots for FreedomWorks, said in a note to the group's members. "Let’s fight to keep parents, teachers, and local communities in charge of education – not Washington bureaucrats."
Kansas formally adopted Common Core standards in 2010, saying they would help prepare students for college and careers. Numerous school districts throughout the state, including Lawrence, have spent the past two years getting teachers ready to implement them.
Common Core standards have been adopted by most states, and started as a project of the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers.
But FreedomWorks says Common Core will take away the rights of states to compose their own education requirements.
In Kansas, the Legislature is fighting over budget and tax issues. Senate Republican leaders want to insert a provision in the budget that would prohibit the expenditure of state funds to implement Common Core standards.
Topeka — As the Kansas Legislature remained deadlocked over taxes and spending, Gov. Sam Brownback is speaking today at a $40-a-ticket luncheon in Chicago before the Illinois Policy Institute.
The event has been titled "There's no place like home. A conversation with Kansas Governor Sam Brownback."
The information about the event says that Brownback "has proven to be an innovative reformer seeking to expand liberty in the Sunflower State." It says Brownback enacted the largest income tax cut in Kansas history and is seeking more cuts.
The Illinois Policy Institute describes itself as a non-partisan organization dedicated to supporting free market principles and liberty-based public policy initiatives. Here is a link to information about the event.link text
Topeka — A possible election challenge to Gov. Sam Brownback by former Senate President Steve Morris has been batted around the Twitterverse recently.
Contacted by phone, Morris, a Republican from Hugoton, said he has no plans to run for governor in 2014, but he added, "In this business, you never want to say never."
Morris said there was been discussion around the state of trying to challenge Brownback, a conservative Republican, with an independent or third-party candidate. He said there is probably no way a moderate Republican could defeat Brownback during the GOP primary because of the strength of conservatives within the party.
Morris said he believes Brownback's income tax cuts are hurting the state.
"The tax plan that the governor engineered last year was a big mistake, and this (Brownback's desire to eliminate the state income tax altogether) would just compound that mistake," he said.
Morris was one of 9 moderate Republican senators who were defeated in the GOP primary in August 2012. The moderates were targeted by Wichita-based Koch Industries and groups loyal to Brownback, such as the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Kansans for Life.
Topeka — Labor officials are not happy with the Kansas Legislature.
Citing a recent report that lists Kansas as one of the nation's 10 most deadly states in workplace safety, labor officials said Wednesday the 2013 Legislature will be remembered as one of the most anti-worker legislatures ever.
"Far too many people are dying on the job in this state and instead of strengthening protections for working people, our elected officials are further rigging the system against Kansas workers," said Bruce Tunnell, executive vice president of the Kansas AFL-CIO. "Their misplaced priorities will mean that the health and well-being of more working people are at risk on the job."
An AFL-CIO report said that 78 workers were killed on the job in Kansas in 2011, a rate of 5.9 deaths per 100,000 workers, compared to the national average of 3.6 deaths per 100,000 workers. In addition, 41,000 workplace injuries and illnesses were reported, which was a rate higher than the national average. Kansas ranks 40th in workplace safety, according to the report.
But instead of addressing these safety issues, Tunnell said, the Legislature approved and Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law measures that make it more difficult for injured workers to collect workers' compensation.
Senate Bill 187 puts the appointment of workers' compensation judges more in the hands of businesses and insurance providers. Business groups said the former system favored nominees who were the least objectionable, and not necessarily the most qualified.
Senate Bill 73 reduces the time an injured worker can report a workplace injury, and puts in place new impairment guidelines for injured workers that organized labor has opposed. Supporters of the bill said the new impairment ratings were simply an update.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was in Washington, D.C., yesterday testifying against an immigration bill before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
Kobach cited the recent Boston Marathon bombing as one of several reasons he opposed the proposed legislation, saying that the bill provided insufficient background checks to prevent terrorists from gaining amnesty.
According to his written testimony, Kobach said that under the bill "any illegal alien can invent a new name with a totally clean record and present that name when applying for the amnesty.
"In other words, an alien who has a terrorist background can call himself `Rumpelstiltskin' without having to prove that that is his real name."
He said marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died in a shoot-out with police, was able to travel internationally and gain terrorist training before returning to the United States.
Supporters of the immigration bill, however, say it will strengthen security by increasing border security and enforcement. The measure would also require employers to check their workers' legal status, and it would provide a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants now here illegally.
Kobach has worked with several cities and states, such as Arizona, in passing measures aimed at reducing illegal immigration.
His use of the term "self-deportation," to describe the departure of undocumented workers because of tough immigration enforcement laws became an issue during the November presidential campaign. Kobach was an adviser on immigration issues to Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who also used the term "self-deportation." Some have said that hurt Romney among Hispanic voters.
During Tuesday's committee meeting, Kobach got into a discussion about "self-deportation" with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Kobach said, "Self-deportation is not some radical idea. It is simply the idea that people may comply with the law by their own choice.
"Self-deportation is something that Arizona has proven that if you ratchet up the penalties for violating the law, people chose to leave and it has been proven that they do that."
But Durbin said, "The voters had the last word on self-deportation on Nov. 6, so we're beyond that now. You can stick with that theory as long as you'd like, but I think what we are talking about now is whether America is a better country if we have an immigration system that brings 11 million people out of the shadows, to register with this government, so we know who they are, where they are, do a criminal background check, or whether we leave them in the shadows."
Topeka — State tax revenue is expected to decline more over the next fiscal year than it decreased during the three years of the Great Recession, according to new state fiscal estimates.
New revenue figures show that the state will receive $5.454 billion in tax revenue for the fiscal year that starts July 1— a decrease of $745 million from the estimated $6.199 billion in revenue during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
During the recession, tax receipts fell to $5.191 billion in fiscal year 2010 from $5.809 billion in fiscal year 2007. That's a decline of $618 million over a three-year period.
The bulk of the $745 million reduction in receipts over the next fiscal year includes $450 million less in income tax and $270 million fewer dollars in state sales tax.
The revenue estimates are compiled by the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, which includes the state Division of the Budget, Legislative Research Department and three consulting economists from state universities.
Last year, Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law cuts in income tax rates, including exemptions from state income taxes on non-wage income for 190,000 businesses, and eliminating tax credits for low-income Kansans.
In 2010, facing record revenue declines, the Legislature approved raising the state sales tax from to 6.3 percent from 5.3 percent, and then allowing that rate to fall back to 5.7 percent after three years.
Saying he wants to avoid cuts to higher education, Brownback is now pushing to make the 6.3 percent sales tax permanent. Democrats say the tax plan signed by Brownback has produced a fiscal crisis.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday urged Congress to approve a proposed farm bill, saying he hoped a bipartisan deal on agriculture would create momentum to also pass immigration reform and a long-term deficit reduction plan.
"It's like turning a wheel," Vilsack said in a telephone interview with the Lawrence Journal-World. "Once you give it a push, it can roll around for a while. We have to get momentum in this Congress for getting something done," he said.
Passage of a farm bill provides the best opportunity "to get that wheel rolling," he said.
The House and Senate are set to consider separate five-year farm bills. The Senate bill would cut $2.4 billion annually, while the House plan would reduce spending by $4 billion out of about $100 billion annually.
Both versions would cut food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The Senate bill would cut $400 million per year, while the House would reduce it by $2 billion annually.
The administration supports the Senate version, Vilsack said, because the House bill cuts SNAP too deeply.
And Vilsack said it's important to approve immigration legislation, too.The Senate Judiciary Committee is aiming to pass before the Memorial Day recess an immigration bill to secure the border and offer citizenship to millions.
Vilsack said getting those two pieces of legislation passed may pave the way for cooperation on a budget deal.
Congress and the White House's failure to agree on long-term deficit reduction has led to automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration. Vilsack said sequestration "does create a challenge to fund programs."
Topeka — As legislators return Wednesday for the wrap-up session, concerns are rising for those who care for Kansans with developmental disabilities.
Two issues are in play.
One is increased funding proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback to reduce the number of Kansans on waiting lists to get the support they need.
The second issue is whether the thousands of Kansans with developmental and intellectual disabilities should be brought under the new KanCare system to provide their long-term care services.
Parents of those with disabilities support Brownback's proposed $18.5 million funding increase, though many oppose providing long-term care for their children under the privatized KanCare system run by for-profit insurance companies.
But Brownback's administration is saying one would impact the other.
Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said the "continued opposition to including long-term services under KanCare for persons on the I/DD (intellectual and developmental disability) waiver jeopardizes the state's ability to address the waiting lists."
De Rocha points to a fiscal note of House Bill 2029, which would "carve out" long-term care services from KanCare.
That fiscal note, signed by Brownback's budget director Steve Anderson, says the carve-out would increase costs to the state by $9.2 million in the fiscal year starting July 1, and $16.8 million in the fiscal year after that.
As a result, de Rocha said, the ability of the House and Senate to adopt Brownback's increased funding plan "could be impacted by the carve-out."
Tom Laing, executive director of InterHab, which represents groups that provide services to people with developmental disabilities, had a different view of the fiscal note.
Laing said projected costs contained in the fiscal note incorrectly included several factors, including inflation. "We don't get paid higher costs due to inflation. That is a fictional variable that they've thrown in," he said.
InterHab says more than 1,100 Kansans will attend a rally on Wednesday outside the Statehouse calling on Brownback and the Legislature to carve out from KanCare long-term services for the developmentally disabled.