Topeka — The Kansas Senate took a hard right on Monday as Republicans elected Susan Wagle as the next Senate president to complete the conservative takeover of state government.
Wagle, R-Wichita, whose victory makes her the first woman to lead a chamber in the Kansas Legislature, has been a staunch conservative voice for 22 years in the Statehouse and in the middle of many conservative-moderate fights within the Republican Party.
In 2003, Wagle made national headlines alleging improprieties in a human sexuality class at Kansas University. An investigation by KU concluded that the charges were unfounded.
Wagle will replace moderate Republican Steve Morris, who was among a group of moderates defeated in the Republican primary by a conservative blitz led by Gov. Sam Brownback, the billionaire Koch brothers and Kansas Chamber of Commerce.
On Monday, conservatives in the Senate elected their people in all leadership positions. No moderates were even nominated.
When the Legislature convenes Jan. 14, Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, will be majority leader, and Jeff King, R-Independence, Senate vice president. They will join House leaders already firmly in the conservative ranks. Wagle defeated fellow conservative state Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, in a 23-9 vote.
After her election, Wagle, who has survived several bouts with cancer, said the vote for her “brings hope and encouragement to an awful lot of people who want a reason to get out of bed in the morning.”
How far right will the Senate go?
Later, she said the budget will be the dominant issue of the next legislative session.
Because of Brownback’s tax cuts, which includes eliminating income taxes for 191,000 businesses, the state is facing an estimated $328 million revenue shortfall next year.
“My greatest concern is the budget deficit we’re facing and how we’ll resolve that, and I think that will clearly dominate the session,” she said.
Wagle said a big factor in fixing the state budget will be what the federal government does to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax increases and budget cuts.
She said making history as the first woman elected Senate president was nice, but added, “I don’t think that was why I was elected.”
Republicans hold a 32-8 advantage over Democrats in the Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said the new Republican leaders are more conservative the current ones. “It just remains to be seen how far right they will go,” he said.
He said conservatives will be divided on some issues, such as undocumented workers, where the tea party wants tough restrictions that the Kansas Chamber of Commerce opposes.
“I don’t think it’s a given they will walk in lockstep,” Hensley said of conservative Republicans.
Of Wagle, he said, “I’ve admired her independent streak in the past. She is her own person,” he said. But, he noted, they differ on many issues, mentioning her push for anti-union legislation.
Senate Democratic revolt
Hensley faced a revolt in his eight-member caucus from state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City.
The first ballot for Senate minority leader was tied 4-4 and then Hensley won 5-3 on the second ballot. State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, challenged state Sen. Laura Kelley, D-Topeka, for assistant minority leader and won.
On the House side, Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, won a three-man race for speaker to replace Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, who retired from the Legislature to lead the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg, was elected majority leader.
Republicans hold a 92-33 edge over Democrats in the House. State Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, was re-elected House minority leader.
Because the House speaker and Senate president are mentioned in the state constitution, Republicans’ selections must be ratified by each chamber once the Legislature convenes the session, but that’s traditionally a formality. House leaders will hold their jobs for 2013 and 2014, but Senate leaders will retain them through 2016.
Wagle has history
Wagle has fought moderate Republicans in several highly publicized issues.
In 2000, as chairwoman of the House Taxation Committee, Wagle launched an investigation into then-Attorney General Carla Stovall’s hiring of her former law firm to work on litigation against tobacco companies.
In 2003, Wagle went to the floor of the Senate and alleged a Kansas University professor showed pornographic videos, rationalized pedophilia and harassed female students in his human sexuality class. But an investigation by KU said the allegations were unsubstantiated.
And last year, Wagle questioned the operations of the Kansas Bioscience Authority. Later, the agency’s chief executive officer resigned.
After a two-year exile to mobile units located outside the Capitol, the State Library of Kansas will be moving back into the building over the next couple of weeks to its newly restored digs.
"I can't tell you how excited we are to get back in the Statehouse before the 2013 legislative session," said State Librarian Jo Budler.
Movers have already begun relocating the 202,000 book collection, which includes publications more than 200 years old. "It's really quite remarkable to see a collection of this size and importance in motion," Budler said.
Topeka — Officials representing doctors and hospitals on Friday said the state needs to increase the current $250,000 cap for pain and suffering in medical malpractice awards, but take its time doing it.
"That is probably something we are going to have to do in the next couple of years, to address the adequacy of the cap," said Jerry Slaughter, executive director of the Kansas Medical Society.
His comments were made during a meeting of the Health Care Stabilization Fund Oversight Committee.
In October, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld the $250,000 cap, set in 1988, as constitutional in a case from Douglas County.
The case dealt with Amy Miller of Eudora, who in 2002 went in for surgery for removal of her right ovary. Dr. Carolyn Johnson, of Lawrence, removed her left ovary by mistake. A jury awarded Miller $400,000 for pain and suffering, but that was knocked back down to $250,000.
Slaughter said if the amount of the cap isn't increased, the state Supreme Court may take another look at it.
Opponents of the cap say it infringes on a basic right under the Kansas Constitution that a trial by jury shall be "inviolate." Just two months before the Kansas decision, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a cap on damages in that state.
Tom Bell, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Hospital Association, said he supported an increase in the cap in Kansas. "We just need to figure out what that amount is, and go about doing it," he said.
Bell and Slaughter praised the Kansas court's decision, saying it helped stabilize the health care system. Slaughter said the Medical Society wanted to bring in stakeholders and discuss the cap through 2013 and provide legislators with a proposal to increase it in 2014.
Conservatives are in the driver’s seat in the Kansas Legislature; professors ask where they will take the state
Topeka — A group of political science professors on Thursday said conservative Republicans led by Gov. Sam Brownback are in the driver's seat in Kansas and now the question is where will they take the state.
"The governor is going to be able to push through his legislative agenda in a very meaningful way," said Joe Aistrup of Kansas State University. "We are going to see a very strong pendulum swing to the right," Aistrup told about 75 people who gathered for a post-election discussion at Washburn University.
Conservative Republicans knocked off eight moderate Republican incumbents in the state Senate in August and will be in charge of that chamber when the legislative session starts in January. In the 125-member House, Republicans, most of them conservatives, hold a 92-33 edge over Democrats. More than 50 members of the House will be new legislators.
Aistrup said conservatives have made moderate Republicans in Kansas "almost extinct." Moderates, he said, are retired, beaten or converted, and he said that the Democratic Party probably won't be viable in Kansas for decades.
Michael Smith, of Emporia State University, said now that conservatives have taken over state government and hold all six congressional positions, they must show what their small government philosophy will look like.
Smith said to make significant budget cuts on the federal and state level will require cuts to health care and education and it will be interesting to see how the public reacts to that.
Ed Flentje, of Wichita State University, said the number of state governments in control of the Republican party has grown from nine in 2008 to 24 in 2012. In fact, he said only 11 states have divided party control.
"At the state level, red states got redder and blue states got bluer," Flentje said.
Burdett Loomis, of Kansas University, said Kansas has become a more conservative state while the United States "is trending blue." He said Republican governors face a dilemma. "They've got to deal with the federal government. They can choose to cooperate, work with it, or not cooperate and play it on a pure political basis," which could hurt the states, he said.
Loomis said one of the bills that he expects will pass next year in the Kansas Legislature and be signed into law by Brownback would allow a religious defense to discriminate against gays.
"That kind of legislation will slide through the Legislature," he said. Last session, the House approved the bill, but Senate leaders, who have since been defeated in the GOP primary, wouldn't consider the bill. Several Lawrence officials fought against the measure, saying it would have nullified a city of Lawrence anti-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation.
Bob Beatty and Mark Peterson, both of Washburn University, and Gwen Mellinger of Baker University also spoke at the event.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Thursday there were no problems during the Nov. 6 general election with the photo ID requirement to vote, and he said he would push next year for the Legislature to give his office the authority to prosecute allegations of voter fraud.
"I think it makes sense that if we as a state take voter fraud seriously when it does occur that we prosecute the cases," Kobach said after a meeting of the State Board of Canvassers, which officially certified the results of the election.
Kobach pushed the photo ID law, saying it was needed to combat election fraud, but he acknowledged that there have no reports of voter fraud in Kansas this year.
The authority to prosecute voter fraud currently rests with county attorneys, but Kobach said those offices don't get around to investigating and prosecuting those cases because they are over-worked and under-staffed.
He said there have been 235 cases of alleged voter fraud in Kansas between 1997 and 2010 and not one has been prosecuted.
Kobach has tried to get authority to prosecute alleged voter fraud cases before, but the state Senate balked. Now that conservative Republicans will takeover leadership of the Senate next year, Kobach said he believes he can get such a bill approved.
On photo ID, the recently concluded election was the first general election in Kansas with the requirement.
Out of 1,182,771 votes cast, 838 provisional ballots were issued due to lack of sufficient photo ID, Kobach said. Of those, 306 voters presented ID before the county canvass to make their votes count. That means 532 provisional ballots were not counted.
But Kobach said he was confident nearly all those voters had photo ID. He said he bases that on checking on those who cast provisional ballots after the August primary against driver's license records.
In the Nov. 6 election, 66.8 percent of Kansas' nearly 1.8 million registered voters cast ballots. Republican Mitt Romney defeated President Barack Obama in Kansas by 59.7 percent to 37.9 percent with the remaining votes going to minor party candidates.
Kansas' four-year high school graduation rate was tied for 12th in the country at 83 percent for the 2010-2011 academic year.
The data released by the U.S. Department of Education represents the first-ever list detailing state-by-state graduation rates using more rigorous measures, the agency said.
"By using this new measure, states will be more honest in holding schools accountable and ensuring that students succeed," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. "Ultimately, these data will help states target support to ensure more students graduate on time, college and career ready," said Duncan, who visited Kansas in September and gave a speech at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.
Iowa had the highest graduation rate at 88 percent, while Vermont and Wisconsin were tied for second at 87 percent. Six states — Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas — were at 86 percent, while Illinois and Maine were at 84 percent.
At 83 percent were Kansas, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota.
Reports say Dole has been hospitalized at Walter Reed; Dole assistant says he’ll leave hospital tomorrow
Several outlets are reporting that former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole has been hospitalized. In the past few minutes, a Dole assistant said he was in for a routine procedure.
CBS News reports:
"He is at Walter Reed not for a checkup," (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid said on the Senate floor. "He is there because he is infirm. He is sick."
Shortly after Reid's comments, however, an assistant to Dole told CBS News in an email that Dole will leave the hospital tomorrow after a "routine" procedure.
"He checked himself in for a routine procedure and will discharge tomorrow," Dole's assistant said. "Doing well and watching the CRPD debate on CSPAN 2."
Gov. Sam Brownback today kicked off a statewide weight-loss challenge aimed at instilling healthy habits, but he criticized new federal school lunch standards that provide healthier meals.
Brownback wants Kansans to organize into five-person teams to see which team can lose the largest percentage of weight.
Brownback intends to pick four members of his Cabinet to his squad.
"My hope is that the Governor's Weight Loss Challenge will encourage everyone to work together to make our state healthier," Brownback said at a news conference.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Robert Moser, a physician, and also the State Health Officer, said the obesity rate has doubled among Kansas adults from 15 percent to 30.1 percent between 1995 and 2010.
"Together, poor nutrition and physical inactivity is now considered the No. 2 preventable cause of death, behind tobacco use," Moser said.
Obesity is associated with congestive heart failure, diabetes and cancer, he said.
The governor's challenge will award monetary prizes — the amounts have not yet been determined — to teams comprised of state employees. Brownback also urged non-state employees to take up the challenge.
A web-based tool will be used to track the progress of each state employee team that joins the competition. Teams can start registering on Dec. 17 at www.weightloss.ks.gov.
On the issue of school lunches, Brownback said the goal of the lunch standards was "laudable," but added, "It's a typical federal issue. It just doesn't fit all circumstances."
He said he has heard complaints from people that their children participate in school athletics and aren't getting enough calories with the lunches.
The standards, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, are designed to "raise a healthier generation of children," according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
According to the USDA, the changes that took effect this school year ensure students are offered both fruits and vegetables each school day; increase whole grain foods; offer only fat-free or low-fat milk; limit calories based on the age of children being served; and increase focus on reducing saturated fats, trans fats and sodium.
Kansas University's tougher admission standards are inching closer to reality.
On Monday, state and KU officials briefed the House-Senate Committee on Rules and Regulations about the proposed standards, and the Kansas Board of Regents will probably put the finishing touches on them next month.
The proposed standards are "designed to encourage student achievement and student success," said Sara Rosen, senior vice provost for academic affairs at KU. "The current standards do not reflect what it takes to succeed at the University of Kansas," she said.
Currently, admission criteria are the same for all six regents universities. A Kansas high school graduate can be admitted if he or she meets one of these:
— Has an ACT score of at least 21 or SAT score of at least 980.
— Ranks in the top one-third of the high school class.
— Has a 2.0 grade point average on a 4.0 scale in the Kansas Qualified Precollege Admissions curriculum.
Under the proposed standards, to be automatically admitted to KU, graduating high school students would have to complete the pre-college curriculum along with one of these:
— A minimum 3.0 GPA and an ACT score of at least 24 or 1090 SAT.
— A minimum 3.25 GPA and an ACT score of 21 or 980 SAT.
Students would also have to apply by Feb. 1 prior to their freshman year at KU to be considered for automatic application.
Students who don't meet the criteria will have their applications reviewed by a committee that will look at numerous considerations, including whether the applying student would be a first generation college student, or is the child or grandchild of KU graduates, and has the potential to succeed academically. If given final approval by the regents next month, the standards would take effect for the entering freshman class in fall 2016. Rosen said the new standards would "result in more students successfully earning degrees from the University of Kansas."
Matt Melvin, KU's associate vice provost for recruitment and enrollment, said the goal is not to deny access but to get students enrolled who are better-prepared for the rigors of KU. He said the school is not so much interested in recruiting freshmen, but "recruiting graduates-to-be."
Exit polls showed that Kansas voters by and large were out of the step with the national electorate during the presidential election, except in one area — independent voters.
Here is an analysis of the election by Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University.
"Since 1968 Kansas has gone for the Republican nominee for President, and 2012 was no different. By a wide 22 point margin (60%-38%), Mitt Romney defeated President Barack Obama in the Sunflower state, an increase of eight points over John McCain’s vote share in 2008. Nationally, Obama defeated Romney by 2.8% (50.6%-47.8%). Beyond the election results, presidential election years also offer an opportunity – by using exit poll data – to analyze any similarities and differences between group preferences in Kansas versus national group preferences. On whole, 2012 produced more differences than similarities.
"First, on election day, 48% of Kansas voters identified themselves as Republicans, the second highest percentage of Republicans voting (as a % of state voters) in any state except for Wyoming. 27% identified as Democrats and 24% as members of no party. Nationally, the numbers were 38% Democrat, 32% Republican, and 29% independent. One similarity is that nationally independent voters went for Romney 50% – 45% and in Kansas they went for Romney 51% - 43%.
"Looking at the numbers in terms of race, nationally, white voters made up 72% of all voters, and they went for Romney by 20 points (59%-39%), while in Kansas they were 87% of all voters and went for Romney by 31 points (64%-33%). White men went for Romney by 27 points nationally (62%-35%), but in Kansas 74% of all white men voted for Romney, giving him a 50 point advantage over Obama (74%-24%).
"One of the reasons that Obama was able to win a second term was the support he received from women, winning that group of voters nationally by 11 points, 55%-44%. In Kansas, however, Romney won the female vote by 4 points, 51%-47%, and won the male vote by a whopping 40 points, 69%-29%. Nationally Romney won men by much less, 7 points, 52%-45%. An interesting subset of the female vote that has received a lot of attention is unmarried women. In this category Kansas lies a bit closer to the national numbers, with Obama winning by a 19 point advantage in Kansas, 58%-39%. Nationally, he won unmarried women by 36 points, 67%-31%. Romney won married men by 22 points nationwide but by 46 points in Kansas.
"One very large divergence between Kansas and the nation in terms of the Obama vote lies in the different age categories. Across ages Romney significantly outperformed Obama in Kansas compared to the President’s national numbers. Among younger voters, aged 18-29, Romney won by 17 points, 54%-41%, while nationally Obama won those voters by a 23 point margin, 60%-37%; Among voters aged 30-44, in Kansas Romney won by 20 points (59%-39%) while nationally Obama won by 7 points (52%-45%); Among voters aged 45-64, in Kansas Romney won by a massive 27 points, while nationally he won that group by a much smaller 4 points; Among voters aged 65 and older, Romney won in Kansas by 22 points and won nationally by 12 points.
"Finally, in what should not be a big surprise given the actual results, the Kansas exit polls showed that the majority of voters here did not think too kindly of the president, while nationally, the opposite is true. In Kansas 60% of voters had an unfavorable opinion of President Obama while 39% had a favorable opinion, a 21 point negative margin. Nationally, 53% of voters thought of the president favorably while 46% thought of him unfavorably, a 7 point positive margin."
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
U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, both Kansas Republicans, voted against gun legislation that would have expanded background checks and other restrictions.
The measure, put together by U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, was in response to the Newtown, Conn., massacre and other mass slayings.
The proposal to expand background checks to sales at guns shows and online received a majority of votes in the Senate — 54-46 — but failed Wednesday to get the required 60 votes needed to advance.
Of the bill, Roberts said, "I believe that Senators Toomey and Manchin came to the table with a sincere proposal, however, I have serious concerns with their legislation, including the expansion of the background check system and government intrusion on private firearm transfers.
"A background check can provide a key line of defense against gun violence, but it must be done in a way that does not infringe upon Second Amendment rights."
The National Rifle Association thanked legislators for defeating the background check expansion, saying it would have criminalized transactions between friends — a charge that supporters of the bill said was untrue.
Roberts said he supported an alternative bill that he said would improve the efficiency and accuracy of the background check system.
Moran did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his vote on expanding background checks.
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 — Gov. Sam Brownback continues to try to build his case for making the 6.3 percent state sales tax permanent, instead of letting it fall to 5.7 percent.
On Friday, Brownback said the state may need revenue from the higher levy in case of a ruling against the state from the Kansas Supreme Court on funding of public schools.link text
"We've got a lawsuit pending against the state right now that we have lost at the lower court on K-12 funding, and we don't know when the Supreme Court is going to rule — it's under mediation now — but I think you have got to also be also looking at that in the overall picture," Brownback said.
In 2010, facing a revenue crisis, the Legislature approved a temporary, three-year increase in the state sales tax to 6.3 percent from 5.3 percent, and then decreasing it to 5.7 percent on July 1.
Brownback wants to keep the rate at 6.3 percent, saying the revenue is needed to balance the budget. He has said in recent days that the higher sales tax is required to prevent cuts proposed by the House and Senate to higher education.
Democrats oppose extending the higher rate because they say current budget problems are the result of Brownback signing into law last year income tax cuts, which they say benefit mostly the wealthy. link text In addition, they said that Brownback wants to use future sales tax revenue to cut income taxes even more. Conservative Republicans in the House have also voiced opposition to the higher sales tax rate, saying the budget should be cut more.
But on Friday, Brownback added the issue of school funding to the mix.
In January, a three-judge panel ruled that legislators must increase spending on schools by at least $440 million. The issue is pending before the state Supreme Court.
Brownback said legislators have to consider the impact that a possible final ruling against the state would have on the budget and how the state would come up with additional revenue for schools.
"You could get yourself where you'd be in a crisis position, and I don't think that's prudent," Brownback said.
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.