Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature have lower approval ratings in Kansas than President Barack Obama, according to a recent poll from Fort Hays State University.
In fact, of all the public institutions and elected officials asked about in the poll, the one with the highest approval rating was one that Brownback and lawmakers spend a great deal of time attacking: the Kansas Supreme Court.
That may not be saying much, given that only 45 percent of those surveyed said they were satisfied with the Supreme Court. But at least it was higher than the 25 percent approval rating for the Legislature, or Brownback's 21 percent rating.
By comparison, in the solidly Republican state of Kansas, 34 percent said they were either somewhat or very satisfied with President Obama.
That may be of interest to Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, who has been touting endorsements from Brownback and other GOP officeholders in the state leading up to Saturday's Republican caucuses.
Those were just some of the findings in the survey by FHSU's Docking Institute of Public Affairs leading up to Saturday's Republican and Democratic presidential caucuses in Kansas.
In addition, in the survey of voters' presidential favorites, which was released last week, the Docking Institute asked about a wide range of political and social issues. And, similar to the Kansas Speaks survey from last fall, it showed most Kansans are much more moderate in political ideology than their elected leaders.
The survey sampled 440 Kansas adults, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Among the issues specific to Kansas:
• 77 percent said funding for public schools in Kansas generally should increase, and 63 percent want increased funding for their own local schools.
• Two-thirds (66 percent) oppose the Legislature's decision to allow concealed carry of handguns without a permit or training requirements. Nearly half (49 percent) said they strongly oppose that decision.
• Only 23 percent said they are "extremely" or "very" concerned that a terrorist attack will occur in Kansas, while 49 percent said they are "somewhat" concerned, and 28 percent said they are not concerned at all.
However, when it comes to allowing Middle Eastern refugees fleeing war and persecution to come to Kansas, the poll showed Kansans' attitudes line up pretty well with their elected leaders: 51 percent oppose such a policy, while only 36 percent support it.
The survey also asked about several national political issues. And again, it showed most Kansans to be more moderate, or even liberal, than their elected Republican leaders.
• Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) said taxes should be raised on the nation's top income earners, and more than half (57 percent) said large corporations should pay more in taxes.
• Concern about the federal budget deficit was split about evenly, with one-third saying they are "extremely" or "very" concerned about it; another third saying they're "somewhat" concerned; and about a third saying they're not concerned at all.
• More than half (53 percent) said they would support allowing a pathway to citizenship for illegal or undocumented immigrants who have no criminal record. But a sizable number, 23 percent, support deporting all undocumented immigrants.
• And nearly half (48 percent) said they oppose defunding Planned Parenthood, while only 35 percent support it. The other 18 percent had no opinion either way.
The question is often asked how the political views of elected officials be so different from those of the people they represent.
The answer appears to be simple. "Average" Kansans don't vote in primary elections where candidates are selected. Only the most passionate and partisan voters do.
For the first time in many years, the Kansas governor's State of the State address won't be broadcast live on television. At least that's how things stand now.
Dave McClintock, interim CEO of KPTS-TV, the public television station in Wichita, said the station was unable to raise the money to cover the cost of the broadcast this year and therefore decided to cancel it. KPTS has carried the State of the State address for the last several years and has shared both the video and audio feeds with other stations that wanted to carry it.
This year, however, it's doubtful that many commercial stations would carry it anyway because Gov. Sam Brownback has scheduled the Jan. 12 speech at 5:30 p.m., bumping up against the national network news programs.
Also, President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver his final State of the Union address at 8 p.m. that same night.
Eileen Hawley, Brownback's press secretary, said the state of Kansas will live-stream a video feed of the speech through its website, Kansas.gov. She also said the administration is working with media outlets to ensure that all Kansans are able to watch and listen to the address.
J. Schafer, news director at Kansas Public Radio in Lawrence, said KPR will carry the audio portion of the speech live, and will make that signal available to other public radio stations in Kansas City, Wichita, Pittsburg, Hutchinson and Garden City by way of an NPR satellite, but that satellite signal is unavailable to non-NPR affiliates.
McClintock said he regretted that KPTS is unable to carry the speech this year.
"Hopefully we’ll not be in that position next year," he said.
Note: This story has been updated from an earlier version to reflect that the state of Kansas will live-stream the speech on its website.
A new poll from the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University shows only 18 percent of Kansans are satisfied with Gov. Sam Brownback's performance in office, and most (61 percent) think his signature tax policies have either been a "failure" or a "tremendous failure."
The Fall 2015 "Kansas Speaks" survey also showed a large majority (61 percent) favor expanding Medicaid. Another 84 percent oppose requiring colleges and universities to allow firearms on campus, and 82 percent are skeptical that voter fraud is a significant problem in Kansas.
The survey of 638 Kansas adults was conducted Sept. 14 through Oct. 5, with a margin of error of 3.9 percent.
The survey asked respondents to indicate whether they were very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, neutral, somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with a list of elected officials. Overall, only 18 percent said they were either somewhat or very satisfied with Brownback.
That question is slightly different from the standard polling question, which asks people whether they "approve" or "disapprove" of a person's performance in office. It wasn't immediately clear how much impact that subtle difference in wording may have had on the results. One thing that was clear, though: Brownback's "satisfaction rating" among Kansans was 10 points lower than President Barack Obama's.
Like a similar poll conducted this spring, the fall poll portrays a much more moderate adult population than is reflected in the Legislature. That's likely due to the fact that the Fort Hays State poll surveys "adults," as opposed to "registered voters," or even "likely voters."
But the high level of dissatisfaction with Brownback and his policies may be important for Republican candidates running in the 2016 elections. They will likely have to ask themselves how closely they want to be identified with a governor who is personally unpopular, and who cannot run again himself because he is term limited.
Not surprisingly, the poll showed a wide partisan divide on most questions. But when it came to assessing Brownback, even among those who identified themselves as "strong Republicans," 45 percent said they were either somewhat or very dissatisfied with his performance. Only 9 percent said they were very satisfied.
Thirty-eight percent of "strong Republicans" said they believe his tax policies have failed to stimulate economic growth.
Democrats file to challenge conservative senators
More than a year out from the 2016 elections, Democrats are lining up a fair number of candidates to challenge conservative Republicans in the Kansas Senate.
The latest to file is Vicki Hiatt, a Johnson County Democrat who filed Friday to run in the 10th District against incumbent Republican Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook. Hiatt is a retired special education teacher who ran unsuccessfully for the Kansas House in 2014 against incumbent Republican Charles Macheers.
Earlier, Wichita school board member Lynn Rogers filed to challenge Republican Sen. Michael O'Donnell, a conservative who came into office in 2012 as part of the Kansas Chamber-backed slate of candidates who ousted incumbent moderates and took control of the Senate.
O'Donnell defeated then-Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf, a moderate whom the Democrats had never seriously tried to challenge. As a result, when O'Donnell won the GOP primary, he didn't have much difficulty winning the general election too.
But the district itself leans Democratic. As the Wichita Eagle has noted, it overlaps with three Democratic House districts, and voters there supported Democrat Paul Davis by double digits over Brownback in the 2014 gubernatorial race.
Democrats also have a candidate, Michael Czerniewski, teed up to run against Sen. Greg Smith in the 21st District of Johnson County. But moderate and progressive groups are said to be pinning their hopes more on Dinah Sykes, a former PTA president whose website features a picture of her in a bright red shirt, kind of a symbol of teachers unions and other pro-public education groups.
Reporters were also being told Friday to watch for another announcement in the 32nd District, where a high-profile Democrat is expected to announce against Sen. Steve Abrams of Arkansas City.
Democrats have been steadily losing Senate seats for the last 25 years. They're now at only eight seats in the 40-seat chamber, down from 13 after the 1992 elections. They haven't seen a net gain of Senate seats in any election since the 1980s.
For most of that time, though, they were able to form working alliances with moderate Republicans on issues such as K-12 and higher education spending, as well as abortion and other social issues. But that coalition was decimated after the 2012 elections when the Kansas Chamber and other groups allied with Gov. Sam Brownback took control by backing conservative Republicans to challenge sitting moderates.
Officials in Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration fired back Thursday at former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius over comments she made about Medicaid expansion, accusing Sebelius of having created the so-called “waiting lists” for elderly and disabled services in the first place. This all started a few days ago when Melika Willoughby, a young deputy communications director in Brownback’s office, sent out an email to political supporters, asserting that expanding Medicaid, as allowed under the Affordable Care Act, aaka “Obamacare,” would be “morally reprehensible” because it would prioritize able-bodied, childless adults over the frail elderly and disabled who are already on waiting lists to receive services. That led to Sebelius’ comment to the Journal-World Wednesday. Sebelius, one of the architects of Obamacare and the person largely responsible for implementing it during its first couple of years, called that statement “flat-out wrong” and said the only reason there are waiting lists is because the Brownback administration has underfunded the program. That, then, prompted Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services spokeswoman Angela de Rocha to fire back late Thursday, calling Sebelius’ comments “wildly inaccurate.” “The Governor and the Legislature have made significant investments in increased funding to provide services to people with disabilities by investing in bringing people off waiting lists and into services, more than $65 million to date,” she said. In addition, she accused the Sebelius administration of creating the waiting lists in the first place when, in 2008 and 2009, in response to collapsing state revenues amid the global financial crisis, it implemented rule changes that reduced the number of people who received what are called “Home and Community Based Services.” This escalating war of words between the Republican and Democratic camps gives some indication of how heated this issue is likely to be in the next session, not to mention the 2016 elections. And so it merits some background and explanation.
First, what are the “waiting lists” for elderly and disabled services? Under Medicaid, low-income elderly and disabled individuals who can no longer take care of themselves are entitled to receive care in nursing homes. The problem is, that’s very expensive and, in many cases, unnecessary if the individual could only need a little help around the house. So in the 1990s, the states and the federal government started devising “waiver” programs to provide what are called “Home and Community Based Services,” or HCBS. It’s a waiver from the general rule that says the care has to be provided in a nursing home. Under the waiver, Medicaid will pay for medical care as well as certain nonmedical services such as house cleaning, home health aides, personal care, adult day health services, etc., so the individual can continue living at home. Kansas currently has six different types of HCBS waiver programs. They apply to the frail elderly; developmentally disabled; physically disabled; autism patients; traumatic brain injury patients; and those who need technology assistance. HCBS programs are cheaper for everyone because the government isn’t paying the cost of the physical plant of a nursing home. The individual lives in his or her own home. They’re also considered to be better, more humane forms of care because they leave individuals with a degree of independence and self-determination. The problem is, they’re not an entitlement the way nursing home care is. States have to budget for HCBS programs, and the federal government will kick in whatever its matching share is. (In Kansas, it’s about 55 percent of the total cost). But the number of people who get served is essentially capped by how much the state agrees to kick in. Since the inception of the program during Republican Gov. Bill Graves’ administration, the demand for HCBS programs has almost always outstripped the available funding. And, so, people are put on waiting lists.
How would expanding Medicaid affect the elderly and disabled who are on waiting lists? Sebelius’ argument is that it wouldn’t. They’re completely different programs. The frail elderly and disabled individuals who may qualify for HCBS plans are still entitled to medical care through nursing homes. And the state would still be in control over how much it spends for home and community-based care. The expansion of Medicaid to cover all individuals in households up to 138 percent of the poverty level is entirely separate. And, for the first three years, it would be 100 percent funded by the federal government. That gradually scales down to 90 percent in a few years, but Sebelius still calls it the most generous federal-state cost sharing program in U.S. history. Brownback, however, counters that as a practical matter, one does affect the other because the state has limited resources. Eventually, the state will have to pick up some share of the Medicaid expansion cost. And he says it’s unfair to add that cost onto the Medicaid system for able-bodied, working-age adults when the state is struggling to serve all of the elderly and disabled people who want HCBS plans. Sebelius’ counterargument to that is, it doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition. States can and — in her view, at least — should do both.
George Hansen, Gov. Sam Brownback's nominee for secretary of commerce, withdrew his name from consideration Tuesday, saying an extended family member has "extensive business dealings" with the agency.
A statement from Brownback's office gave no further details.
"I respect George's decision and have reluctantly accepted his request to withdraw his name," Brownback said. "I know him to be a man of integrity who would have served Kansas well."
Brownback announced his nomination Aug. 21, citing his "35 years of experience managing domestic and international businesses."
Most recently, he was president and CEO of the Enterprise Center of Johnson County, a venture development organization and early stage business incubator serving the Kansas City metropolitan area.
The Department of Commerce is the state's lead economic development agency. It has a budget of $113 million and administers the state's business, community and workforce development programs.
Hansen would have replaced Pat George, who retired as Commerce Secretary in July. His appointment was subject to Senate confirmation.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback made an impassioned plea Thursday for House and Senate Republicans to reach agreement on a plan to balance the budget before his administration will be forced to take drastic actions.
Those range from vetoing the budget bill lawmakers have already passed, which would force at least a partial shutdown of state government starting July 1; using his line-item veto authority to strike $350 million to $400 million out of the budget; or signing the budget and waiting until July 1 to make allotment cuts to bring the budget into balance.
"We're at Thursday. By Monday you have to come up with something, or then I have to start executing one of these options I have in front of me," Brownback said during a rare joint caucus meeting of House and Senate Republicans. "So you don't have a whole ton of time here to negotiate through a bunch of different policy options in front of you."
The House and Senate so far have been unable to agree on a revenue package to raise the roughly $400 million needed to fund the budget. The House debated long into the night Wednesday, carrying over into Thursday morning, before defeating a Senate-passed plan.
Secretary of Administration Jim Clark said earlier in the meeting that his agency needs at least two weeks to re-program state computer systems with information based on the new budget.
Further, both he and Budget Director Shawn Sullivan warned that without a balanced budget in place, credit rating agencies will almost certainly downgrade the state's bond rating, which would likely raise interest rates on bonds the state plans to issue in the new fiscal year.
Those include $312 million for Regents universities, $750 million for the Kansas Department of Transportation and $1 billion in pension obligation bonds to shore up the troubled Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.
Brownback said he cannot issue line-item vetoes for anything in the K-12 education budget or the judiciary budget because those were passed and approved separately earlier in the session.
He said the amount of money he would need to cut would be roughly equal to the combined state funding for all six Regents universities.
House and Senate tax negotiators were scheduled to meet again at 7 p.m. One possibility being discussed is for the House to reconsider its action on the tax bill it defeated earlier in the day. But some lawmakers want the conference committee to submit a different plan, possibly including a tax on business income that is currently exempt from state taxes.
Despite the state's looming budget crisis, Gov. Sam Brownback gave an upbeat speech to the Kansas Bankers Association, saying the state is poised for economic growth, and vowing to continue on his course to eliminate state income taxes.
Speaking for about 20 minutes in a second-floor hallway at the Capitol, Brownback briefly noted that January revenues came in far below expectations, but focused only on the lag in sales tax collections, which he said was the result of a lackluster holiday shopping season that was felt nationwide.
But the $47.2 million revenue shortfall in January only added to an already dire budget situation. In November, state budget officials projected revenues would be $279 million short of what's needed to fund this year's budget. In response, Brownback ordered about $60 million in direct spending cuts in December and is now asking lawmakers to approve additional measures to close the remaining gap.
According to many analysts, the biggest contributor to the revenue shortfalls has been the sweeping income tax cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013. Supporters of those measures said they would spur rapid economic growth. And in his remarks to the bankers association, Brownback said he still believes in that theory.
"Because the pro-growth position in the United States is to be a right-to-work state with no income taxes," Brownback said.
He told the bankers that he "cannot find a single study" to support what has often been called a "three-legged stool" of taxation in Kansas, a balance between sales, property and income taxes. "But I can find a lot of studies that point to, if you get that income tax rate down to zero, these are, long term, the states that grow the fastest."
The most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, however, does not show a consistent pattern of above-average growth — as measured by their gross state products — in the seven states that have no income tax.
In 2013, when the U.S. economy grew at a sluggish rate of 1.8 percent, two of the seven no-income-tax states had even slower growth: Nevada at 1 percent and Alaska at -2.5 percent. Two other states that do not tax wages, but do tax interest and dividend income, also had below average growth: New Hampshire at 0.9 percent and Tennessee at 0.8 percent.
Most of the other no-income-tax states also had sluggish growth, although they were slightly above the national average: Florida at 2.2 percent and Washington at 2.7 percent. South Dakota and Texas saw growth rates in the 3-4 percent range.
Only Wyoming — whose entire population is roughly equal to that of Johnson County — stood out with a 7.6 percent growth rate, no doubt fueled by the new boom in domestic oil and gas production.
According to the website bankrate.com, which has information about the no-income-tax states, most of the states on the list have significantly higher state sales taxes than Kansas, or they have other significant sources of revenue such as the gaming industry in Nevada, or the petroleum industry, which funds nearly all of Alaska's state operations.
TOPEKA — House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, on Friday gave a farewell speech to the chamber he has been working in for the past 12 years.
"Thank you for the friendships that I will cherish forever, for the memories that will never leave me, and the opportunity to simply serve," Davis said.
Davis is giving up his seat to run for governor against Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
He told House members that next year he will be working in the governor's office or in his law office in Lawrence.
Davis said it has been an honor to serve the 46th House District. For the past six years, he has also been minority leader.
Davis thanked his wife, Stephanie, daughter, Caroline, and parents, who were all present, and each member of the Douglas County delegation, saying he learned from all of them.
He also thanked his staff and House Republican leaders.
In new ad, group backing Brownback praises governor for school bill but doesn’t mention repeal of teacher tenure
A group backing Gov. Sam Brownback churned out a commercial praising Brownback for the new school finance bill, but the ad doesn't mention controversial parts of the bill, including a repeal of job protections for teachers.
The spot sponsored by Road Map Solutions Inc., led by Brownback's longtime political adviser David Kensinger, was running this weekend and cites the bill approved April 6 in the Legislature.
The measure, approved with only Republican votes, was passed after a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that said the Legislature must increase funding to poor schools. But the bill also includes measures opposed by Democrats and some Republicans that would repeal teacher tenure and provide corporate tax breaks for private school scholarships for low-income children.
Brownback is expected to sign the bill into law.
"We got it done," says the announcer on the new ad. The ad says the bill will provide $73 million more for schools and $78 million in property tax relief.
But the ad doesn't mention those education policy changes that have generated criticism.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, the likely Democratic challenger to Brownback, said the repeal of teacher tenure represented "a clear attack" on teachers.
A new poll shows the race for Kansas governor remains tight.
The poll showed Democrat Paul Davis of Lawrence leading Republican Gov. Sam Brownback 45 percent to 41 percent, with 14 percent unsure. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. It was conducted April 1-3, before the contentious last weekend of the legislative session.
The poll, commissioned by the left-leaning MoveOn.org's political action committee, also shows that 52 percent of Kansans want the state to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage while 35 percent oppose it and 13 percent are unsure.
Under the Affordable Care Act, states can increase income eligibility to allow more people to receive health care coverage under Medicaid.
Medicaid provides coverage for the needy and disabled. Under the ACA, federal funds would pay 100 percent of the cost of expansion for three years and no less than 90 percent after that.
Supporters of expansion of Medicaid say it would help thousands of Kansans who earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid or to receive premium tax credit assistance under the ACA to purchase private insurance.
There are 182,000 Kansans within that gap, according to a study by the Kansas Health Institute. Of that number, 78,400 have no insurance, the study said.
Brownback and the Republican-led Kansas Legislature have refused to expand coverage. Brownback has said he fears the federal government won't keep its funding promise.
A bill approved by the Legislature and awaiting consideration by Brownback would ban indefinitely expansion of Medicaid.
According to the new poll, when told that Davis wants to expand Medicaid, 39 percent of those polled said that made them more likely to vote for him, while 34 percent said less likely.
When told that Brownback opposes expansion of Medicaid, 33 percent said that made them more likely to vote for him while 41 percent said that it made them less likely.
The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling surveyed 886 likely voters in Kansas. Fifty-two percent of those polled identified themselves as Republican, 30 percent Democrat, and 18 percent independent.