U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, and his iPad were in the middle of a revolt against House Speaker John Boehner that almost threw the election for speaker to a second ballot. Here is a link to POLITICO's story: http://politi.co/ULaXTJ
Obamacare health insurance exchanges have been approved in four GOP-led states.
In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback rejected partnering with the federal government to set up the web-based insurance marketplaces, saying the Affordable Care Act was an overreach by the federal government.
But in Idaho, a spokesman for Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter said, "We're on track for Idaho having a say over how this process works, instead of having the federal government dictate all of it."
Here is a link to the story. http://bit.ly/YZsuXr
Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist is coming to Kansas at the behest of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce to oppose "restrictionist" policies on immigration reform.
"We are bringing Mr. Norquist to Kansas so legislators can hear what real immigration reform should look like," said Mike O'Neal, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Chamber.
"Each year, the business coalition has been forced to oppose harmful, anti-business legislation pushed as the only solution to this country's and Kansas' immigration woes. Mr. Norquist's insight will give lawmakers a fresh perspective into what direction this country should head as it searches for a solution to the broken and inefficient immigration system," O'Neal added.
Norquist, who is better known nationally as the president of Americans for Tax Reform, will speak at a breakfast for legislators at 8 a.m. Jan. 16 at the Maner Conference Center Shawnee Ballroom in Topeka. The breakfast will be hosted by the Kansas Chamber and the Kansas Business Coalition for Immigration Reform.
In the past, the Kansas Chamber and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach have been at odds on the subject of illegal immigration.
Kobach has pushed, both in Kansas and nationally, for more stringent restrictions, which the chamber has said would place a burden on businesses. The chamber has championed a measure to place some illegal immigrants in jobs if the state declares that an industry has a labor shortage. But Kobach has described that as an amnesty proposal.
Supporters of wind energy cheered final passage in Congress of the bill to avert the "fiscal cliff."
The bill included a one-year extension of the wind energy Production Tax Credit for projects that start construction this year.
This statement came from the American Wind Energy Association: "America's 75,000 workers in wind energy are celebrating tonight over the continuation of policies expected to save up to 37,000 jobs and create far more over time, and to revive business at nearly 500 manufacturing facilities across the country."
Gov. Sam Brownback has touted Kansas' growth in wind energy and supported extension of the credit. But he has also called for phasing it out over several years.
A name from an old Kansas political scandal is at the center of a new Texas political scandal.
The Dallas Morning News reported today that Kenneth "Buddy" Barfield, an Austin political consultant who this year managed Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's failed run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, has been accused by Dewhurst of stealing at least $600,000 from campaign funds. The newspaper and The Associated Press report that they have been unable to contact Barfield for comment.
A criminal investigation is under way and here is a link to that story: http://dallasne.ws/Tuq0jv
Barfield, a former employee of Koch Industries, was also a key figure in reports in 1996 that linked a $1 million political ad blitz with Wichita billionaire Charles Koch that helped four Kansas Republicans get elected to Congress, including current Gov. Sam Brownback, who was elected to the U.S. Senate that year. Brownback and the other three Republicans said they had nothing to do with the ads.
Here is a link to a report on that controversy from 1996: http://bit.ly/W5DyAb
Topeka — The Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity wants members of the 2013 Legislature to sign a pledge that they will vote against tax increases.
So far, 25 have signed the anti-tax pledge. Here is a link to those who have: http://bit.ly/ZDIy73
But would a legislator be breaking that pledge if he or she supported extension of the 6.3 percent state sales tax rate? Under current law, that rate is set to decrease to 5.7 percent on July 1, 2013.
The answer to that question is yes, but there is a caveat. According to Jennifer Rezac, a spokeswoman for AFP-Kansas, if extending the 6.3 percent state sales tax rate "were included in legislation that has an overall net reduction in taxes, then it wouldn't be violating the pledge."
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which vehemently opposed the temporary sales tax increase when it was passed in 2010, now supports maintaining the rate if it means further reductions in state income taxes.
Both the Kansas Chamber and AFP have worked hard, and succeeded in many instances, in helping defeat legislators who voted for that temporary state sales tax increase, which was approved to avoid deeper cuts to schools, social services and public safety.
Recently, U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, has received a lot of national media attention for his uncompromising positions on the budget and gun control.
But those familiar with Kansas politics have long known about Huelskamp's refusal to budge.
Let's review Huelskamp's December.
Just one month after running unopposed to a second term in Congress, Huelskamp was in the middle of a political firestorm when House Speaker John Boehner kicked him off two crucial committees. Huelskamp lost his position on the House Agriculture Committee, a key assignment for someone representing the ag-dominated Big First district, and the House Budget Committee.
Huelskamp called the move "petty, vindictive politics."
Washington observers said Boehner was exerting discipline against Huelskamp and several other tea party Republicans who had voted against U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's GOP budget blueprint that passed the House in March and against the 2011 deal between Republican leaders and President Barack Obama for extending the debt ceiling.
As Boehner and Obama negotiate a deficit-reduction plan, Huelskamp has said he will not vote for any deal that includes a tax increase. Huelskamp cheered last week at the failure of Boehner's "Plan B," which would have prevented tax increases for all Americans but million-dollar earners.
Then last week, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough got angry with Huelskamp during an interview when they talked about the mass slayings at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Huelskamp said some were using the shootings to politicize calls for gun control. Scarborough resented that implication.
Nothing new here.
During his 14 years in the Kansas Legislature, Huelskamp was known for getting cross-ways with leaders, even those in his own party.
In 2003, GOP leaders kicked him off the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Then-Senate President Dave Kerr said at the time, "Sen. Huelskamp has been unwilling to apply constructive criticism and positive solutions to the myriad of budget problems of the state. We have no time to deal with anyone who is unwilling to be part of the solution."
But while he was angering Senate Republican leaders, Huelskamp found favor on the national stage.
In 2005, anti-tax leader Grover Norquist named Huelskamp "Hero of the Taxpayer" for fighting against taxes and trying to reduce the authority of the Kansas Supreme Court after the court declared the school finance system unconstitutional and ordered lawmakers to increase school funding.
Norquist even came to Topeka for a news conference to honor Huelskamp. At that press conference, Norquist illustrated the no-tax, no-way philosophy, saying, "Republicans who vote for tax increases are rat heads in a Coke bottle. They damage the brand. They don't just hurt themselves."
Huelskamp was often critical of Gov. Bill Graves, a Republican, and then in 2008 went after Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' son John for creating a prison-themed board game called Don't Drop the Soap.
Last year, some Republican leaders in Kansas voiced concern for putting the city of Manhattan in the 1st Congressional District during redistricting negotiations because they said Huelskamp would have trouble protecting congressional appropriations for the National Bio and Agro-Defense facility. Huelskamp has said he supports funding for NBAF, but his philosophical desire for smaller government has some worried.
In addition to NBAF, the 1st District depends on Medicare reimbursements for rural hospitals and farm subsidies. And while the potential for more wind farms is great in the 1st District, Huelskamp opposes extension of the Production Tax Credit for wind farms.
In June, several people at a town hall meeting in Hutchinson told Huelskamp that he should support the wind tax credit, but Huelskamp replied, "there is no money tree in Washington, D.C."
U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, and U.S. Reps. Tim Huelskamp and Lynn Jenkins, all of Kansas, rallied around approval of a $35.2 million federal grant to build a new middle school at Fort Riley. The grant was awarded as part of the Department of Defense Installations and Environment fund, according to a release from Roberts' office.
The Geary County school district will match a portion of the funding, $6.7 million, for a total of $41.9 million to demolish and build the new middle school on post.
The school’s groundbreaking is expected Jan. 22 with doors opening in 2014. The school will hold roughly 700 students.
"Last year, I toured the school, and it was clear it was in need of modernization and we had to address the overcrowding," Roberts said. "Men and women in uniform who protect and defend our nation, should not have to worry about the quality of the schools where they send their children,” he said.
A controversial task force that Gov. Sam Brownback appointed to study public school spending is holding its third and probably final meeting today.
The Governor's School Efficiency Task Force was initially under fire because it was dominated by accountants and no one on it was an educator or worked in a school. Brownback also established a website where people could make anonymous reports of their experiences with inefficient spending in the educational system.
Democrats and education groups said the task force was set up to attack public schools. In the task force's first meeting on Oct. 8, it heard from the Kansas Policy Institute, which has been a critic of how schools spend money.
In setting up the task force, the governor's office said that only 15 of the state's 286 school districts complied with a state law that requires at least 65 percent of state funds be spent in the classroom. But there is no such legal requirement, and school officials released a report that showed based on state funding, all school districts were surpassing the 65 percent level.
The task force is expected to make recommendations to Brownback soon.
Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday announced that federal officials have approved a waiver request to implement sweeping changes to the Kansas Medicaid system.
Kansas has already awarded three contracts to managed care organizations to run the Medicaid program, which provides health care coverage to 380,000 poor and disabled residents.
Known as KanCare, the Brownback administration has said the changes will help control care costs and improve care.
The new system will be in effect Jan. 1.
Topeka — In all the furor over various tax proposals in the Legislature, one that has caught the attention of some legislators is reducing the state sales tax on groceries.
People who buy their groceries in Kansas are paying the second-highest state sales tax in the nation on groceries.
According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, 45 states charge a state sales tax. Of those, 31 exempt groceries from the state sales tax.
Of the other 14 states, seven charge a portion of the state sales tax on groceries, and seven, including Kansas, apply the entire state sales tax on groceries. Of those seven, only Mississippi has a higher state sales tax: 7 percent. The state sales tax in Kansas is now 6.3 percent.
If the Kansas sales tax decreases to 5.7 percent, as current law states, Kansans will pay the third highest state tax on groceries behind Mississippi and Idaho, with a 6 percent tax.
Kansas senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran were on opposite sides Monday on the farm bill that was approved 66-27 in the U.S. Senate.
Moran voted for the bill, while Roberts voted against it.
In statements, the two Republicans gave their reasons.
“The Farm Bill passed in the Senate meets the two benchmarks most important to Kansas farmers and ranchers: strong, stable crop insurance and disaster programs to provide livestock producers with confidence when faced with Mother Nature’s uncertainty," Moran said.
But Roberts said, “In this budget environment and at a time when we are looking to make smart cuts to farm programs, I cannot justify a subsidy program that can pay producers more than the cost of production and essentially becomes nothing more than an income transfer program, not a risk-management tool."
The bill, which will cost nearly $1 trillion over 10 years, finances crop insurance and food assistance for low-income families.
The Senate bill would cut $4.1 billion from food stamps over 10 years. The measure now goes to the House, where it faces an uncertain future. A House version would cut food stamps by $20 million.
Roberts was the ranking Republican member on the Agriculture Committee during the last Congress and supported last year's Senate-approved bill.
Roll Call reports that this year, changes made in the bill to win the support of the new ranking member, Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and other Southerners caused Roberts to oppose the new version.link text
Earlier this year, Cochran asserted seniority privilege on the Agriculture Committee after having been dropped as the top Republican on another committee. This pushed aside Roberts as the top Republican on the committee, although he is still a member.
House GOP leader says state employee furloughs possible unless budget approved; measure putting brakes on Common Core in the mix
Topeka — Republican leaders in the House told their rank-and-file members that they needed to approve a state budget Saturday or state employees would face furloughs.
But some GOP House members said they felt like they were being given a take-it or leave-it option, and others said they would vote against the budget unless they get a chance to vote for a bill putting the brakes on Common Core education standards.
The dispute arose on the 99th day of the legislative session, which was supposed to end at 90 days and Republican leaders had earlier said would be finished in 80 days.
"We have a Republican House, Senate and governor and we need to get our work done," said House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg. "If we have bad results because of delays in our process … it has effects and those can affect all of us in the next year," Vickrey said.
Vickrey said the Legislature is facing constitutional deadlines to appropriate funds for the next fiscal year. "The governor can't spend money not passed by the Legislature," he said.
Some state payments for July 1 and beyond are written as early as June 10, he said. To get an approved appropriations bill prepared for Gov. Sam Brownback to sign into law takes at least 7 days, he said. Vickrey said furloughs of state employees, and non-payment of insurance for some state employees was "right around the corner." He said the House would take up the proposed budget later Saturday.
But Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said he didn't think any state employees were in any imminent danger of being furloughed, but he said the Legislature needs to approve a budget.
State Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane, said he was a "No" vote on the budget until the House gets a chance to consider a bill that would suspend work on Common Core and proposed science standards for schools. Tea party groups say Common Core standards represent a federal intrusion on schools, but supporters of Common Core say the standards will improve education and note that they were developed by states.
On the issue of adopting a budget, state Rep. Ed Bideau, R-Chanute, said legislators have known for weeks about approaching deadlines and that the overtime session is playing havoc with school districts trying to prepare for the next year. "It smacks a little bit of a cramdown," to be told the budget must be approved now, he said.
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 —Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has taken his fight for voter photo ID to Alaska.
In the process, Kobach, a Republican who has become a national figure on immigration restrictions and voter ID, has thrust himself into a state legislative battle and a U.S. Senate race there.
Here's a link to a story about Kobach's efforts inlink text Alaska that starts with a question: "Why has Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach taken such an active interest in Alaska's elections?
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 — Gov. Sam Brownback's administration expects tax revenue gains for the month of May, according to an email inadvertently sent Friday to the Lawrence Journal-World.
The email, from Chad Bettes, who is a high-ranking official in the Kansas Department of Revenue, to Sherriene Jones-Sontag, spokeswoman for Gov. Sam Brownback, even includes a prepared comment from Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan. The actual revenue numbers were to be filled in later Friday.
Earlier Friday, Jordan urged House Republicans to break an impasse during the current overtime legislative session and approve measures that increase the sales tax but lower income tax rates. He said lowering income taxes would stimulate the economy. While higher sales taxes hit the poor hardest, he said the state spends $3.5 billion a year on safety-net programs for low-income Kansans.
Here is the email from Bettes to Jones-Sontag. The subject heading said, "Please advise of changes and/or approval":
Planning to send the numbers out between 4 and 4:30 p.m. -- State Tax Receipts Total $XX.X Million in May TOPEKA – May tax receipts exceeded estimates by $XX million, or XX percent, buoyed by one-time revenue attributed to taxpayers who accelerated income in advance of federal tax increases enacted earlier this year. Individual income receipts were $XX million more than anticipated, or XX percent, for the month. The increase over the estimate was due in part to balance due payments for 2012 income taxes, which were processed in late April and early May following the annual tax filing deadline. “It is important to be cautious when looking at these numbers because federal tax hikes proposed at the end of last year and passed in January likely influenced taxpayer behavior as people worked to ensure that income would be taxed at 2012 rates,” said Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan. “We have reaped the benefit of that at the state level in April and May, and now we expect things to return to more normal levels.”
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