Entries from blogs tagged with “Kansas government”
The state's largest teachers union issued its list of primary election endorsements Tuesday, backing 108 House candidates and 40 Senate candidates.
Included in the list are all six Douglas County legislators: Democratic Reps. John Wilson, Boog Highberger and Barbara Ballard; Republican Rep. Tom Sloan; and Democratic Sens. Marci Francisco and Tom Holland.
KNEA said its screening process includes interviews with a team of educators who live in each candidate's district, "to determine which candidates show the greatest support for Kansas public schools."
Incumbent lawmakers are also judged according to their voting record on education issues, KNEA said. The list includes 97 Democrats and 51 Republicans.
KNEA also endorsed Democratic Sen. Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, whose district includes rural western Douglas County.
But in the 42nd House District, which includes Eudora and parts of eastern Douglas County, KNEA endorsed Jim Karleskint over incumbent Rep. Connie O'Brien in the GOP primary, and it backed Democrat Kara Reed, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
O'Brien currently serves on the House Education Budget Committee. All three of the candidates are from Tonganoxie.
Primary elections will be Aug. 2. Voters can begin casting advance ballots starting July 18.
The Kansas Chamber's Political Action Committee released its list of endorsements, all Republicans, for the upcoming Aug. 2 primary in 26 Senate races and 58 House races.
The overwhelming majority of primary races involve contests between Republicans. But included in the list are districts in which there will be no primary, and the only candidates on the ballot are a single Democrat and a single Republican.
Among those are the three Senate districts that cover parts of Douglas County. The Chamber PAC endorsed Republican Meredith Richey of Perry over incumbent Democrat Marci Francisco of Lawrence in the 2nd District; Republican Echo Van Meteren of Linwood over incumbent Democrat Tom Holland in the 3rd District; and Republican Zack Haney of Topeka over incumbent Democrat Anthony Hensley, also of Topeka, in the 19th District, which includes part of rural western Douglas County.
It also endorsed a number of conservative Republicans who are trying to unseat incumbent moderates, including Joe Patton, who is trying to unseat incumbent Sen. Vicki Schmidt in the 20th Senate District in west Topeka.
"The Chamber PAC is committed to supporting hardworking candidates who will fight to make Kansas the best state in the nation in which to live and do business," said Chamber PAC Chairman Amanda Adkins.
But Sen. Holland took a different view.
"I find it rather ironic that the chamber once again is endorsing candidates this cycle who are directly responsible for supporting Gov. (Sam) Brownback’s devastating tax policies that have led the state to the brink of financial ruin," Holland said.
The Chamber PAC made only one endorsement in a Douglas County House district, the 42nd District that covers much of eastern part of the county, including Eudora. There, the chamber endorsed incumbent Rep. Connie O'Brien of Tonganoxie over her GOP rival, Jim Karleskint, also of Tonganoxie.
It made no endorsement in the GOP primary in the 45th District in Lawrence where incumbent Rep. Tom Sloan is being challenged by Jeremy Ryan Pierce.
And it made no endorsements in any Democratic primaries, including the one in the 44th District of Lawrence between incumbent Rep. Barbara Ballard and challenger Steven X. Davis.
TOPEKA — Kansas lawmakers return to the Statehouse at 8 a.m. Thursday for the start of a special legislative session, the 23rd such session in state history and the second one in 11 years focusing on school funding and the Kansas Constitution.
At stake is one simple question: Will public schools be allowed to open and operate as usual this fall, or will the Kansas Supreme Court effectively close public schools unless or until the Legislature comes up with a constitutional way of funding them?
Passions are running high as the court’s June 30 deadline draws closer. But the issues that got the Legislature to this point, and the policy options confronting them are sometimes so complex, it often seems as though lawmakers — not to mention the journalists covering them — are speaking in an entirely different dialect.
But when the techno-jargon is peeled away, what remains is a situation that ought to be of deep concern for every Kansas taxpayer, parent, educator or patron of a school district.
Here, then, is your spectator’s guide to what’s going on in the special session.
First, the issue
Contrary to what many might assume, this is not about whether schools are getting enough money. That will come later. The immediate issue here is property tax fairness: Whether one homeowner or business should pay substantially higher, or lower, property taxes than someone else simply by virtue of their ZIP codes.
Last month, the Kansas Supreme Court said the current funding formula creates disparities that are so wide that they make the entire funding formula unconstitutional.
This has to do with local option budgets, or LOBs, the additional money school districts can raise on their own in order to supplement the base funding they receive from the state. In Lawrence, the LOB equals roughly 33 percent of base state aid, the maximum amount allowed by law.
People often point to extreme examples to illustrate this point. In the Galena school district in southeast Kansas, one of the poorest districts in the state, 1 mill of property tax raises about $17,000. But in Olathe, one of the wealthier districts, that same mill of tax raises about $1.8 million.
Therefore, in order to have the money needed to pay for one additional teacher — let’s say $60,000 for salary plus benefits — folks in Galena have to pay 3.5 mills, or $40.25 in tax on a $100,000 house (and there aren’t many $100,000 houses in Galena), while a similar person in Olathe would pay only 0.03 mills, or 34.5 cents. To even out those kinds of disparities, the state uses a pot of money officially called “supplemental general state aid,” but which most people call “equalization aid.”
For the upcoming school year, the Legislature has budgeted roughly $450 million in equalization aid. It gets divvied up based on a formula that almost nobody fully understands and which has changed a couple of times in the two years as lawmakers have tried to respond to various court decisions.
What the court said on May 27 was that the formula being used for this upcoming year still leaves disparities that are too wide. Not only does it result in tax disparities, it said, but those tax disparities result in educational disparities for students.
The court has given the Legislature until June 30, the last day of the current fiscal year, to fix the problem.
Options for the Legislature
One option that seems to have traction, at least among some lawmakers, and one that the court has suggested, is to reinstate and fully fund the old formula that had previously been held constitutional, but which lawmakers repealed in 2015.
In essence, that would mean reallocating all the money in that $450 million pot of equalization aid, plus about $38 million more, so that some districts would get more and some would get less.
But one political problem with that: Johnson County is home to many of the schools that would get less, because they primarily benefited from the formula change made a couple of years ago. The three largest districts there — Olathe, Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission — collectively would lose nearly $5 million.
Johnson County is home to roughly 20 percent of the state’s population and therefore has roughly 20 percent of all the legislators. That makes it hard to pass anything out of the Legislature without support from Johnson County.
In addition, all of those lawmakers are up for re-election this year. And they don't want to go home after the special session to explain to their constituents why their schools just lost $5 million.
Another option, which many in Johnson County are pushing, would be to include a “hold harmless” provision to make sure no district ends up losing money in the reallocation.
According to the Kansas State Department of Education, that would cost roughly another $11 million, bringing the total price tag close to $50 million.
But there’s another problem. When lawmakers changed the formula, they included a kind of hold-harmless provision, and the Supreme Court said that made the inequities even worse. So there’s no guarantee the court would look favorably on it again.
In addition to the two groups just described, there is another group of lawmakers, including a few from Johnson County, who think the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds by striking down the formula and by threatening to close schools if the Legislature doesn’t do what the court wants.
Some of them are dead-set against doing anything and have openly suggested that the Legislature call the court’s bluff.
Others aren’t too sure that’s a good idea. They would rather pass a constitutional amendment limiting the court’s power to order certain remedies in school finance cases, and they may make passage of such an amendment a condition for their voting yes on any formula change.
Constitutional amendments require passage by two-thirds of the members of both chambers, which is a steep hill to climb in the sharply divided Legislature. After that, it would have to be approved by a simple majority of voters in a statewide election, most likely the upcoming Nov. 8 general election.
Options for the court
If lawmakers choose to do nothing, or if what they do in the next week fails, in the court's opinion, to cure the tax inequities, the court has at least a couple of options at its disposal.
The one that most people fear is that it could issue an order blocking the expenditure of any funds under an unconstitutional formula, effectively shutting down the Kansas public school system on July 1.
In its May 27 opinion, the court said, “without a constitutionally equitable school finance system, the schools in Kansas will be unable to operate.”
But it also suggested another option. In the concluding paragraph, the court said it was continuing to stay the “broad remedial orders” of the three-judge trial court panel.
That would involve striking out all of the changes to the formula lawmakers have made in the last two years, effectively putting the old formula back in place, and then ordering the state treasurer and other officials to disburse those funds accordingly, a move that many lawmakers might take as an even more egregious usurping of legislative authority.
The chairman of the Kansas Republican Party said Monday that he is not taking part in recent efforts to change party rules in a way that could deny Donald Trump the presidential nomination.
"At this point I’m not on board with this," Kelly Arnold, the GOP chairman, said. "We held a caucus, invited Republicans to come out and vote, and I think it would be disingenuous to unbind our delegates that represent the results of our Kansas caucus."
In addition to chairing the state party organization, Arnold serves on the Rules and Resolutions Committee of the Republican National Committee, where efforts are reportedly underway to push through a change in the rules that essentially would allow delegates who are bound to support a candidate to "unbind" themselves if they believe doing so is a matter of personal conscience.
The latest efforts began late last week after Trump made a number of controversial statements, including his call for a ban on Muslim immigration, his comments about a judge of Mexican descent presiding over a civil fraud lawsuit against him, and his wavering positions on gun rights.
Republican voters in Kansas decided how their delegates will be allocated when they voted in the March 5 caucuses. Kansas will send 40 delegates to the convention: 24 pledged to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; nine for Trump; six for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; and one for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Under state party rules, those delegates remain bound to their candidates unless the candidate releases them, which none has so far.
Arnold said he has not spoken with any other Rules Committee members, although several have reached out and tried to contact him.
"For us, as a committee, to throw away the will of the Republicans in America – all of the caucuses and all of the primaries would become a moot point," Arnold said. "Just to say, 'Well, those are no longer valid anymore,' I’m not convinced that’s the right direction to go. Things could change, but I prefer to stick with the will of the people."
The GOP National Convention begins July 18 in Cleveland. But the RNC's Rules and Resolutions Committee will meet the week before that, starting July 14, to finalize its proposed rules for the convention. A final vote on those rules is expected to be one of the first items of business when the full convention begins the following Monday.
That Rules and Resolutions Committee is made up of 122 people: two each, one man and one woman, from all 50 states, the five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. Besides Arnold, the other Kansas member of the committee is Beverly Caley, a state party official from the First Congressional District. Caley did not respond Monday to an email request for comment.
"I would not see this as a likely option to happen, at least within the Rules Committee," Arnold said. "A lot of outside people are talking about this."
The debate over gun control is heating up in at least one congressional race in Kansas at the same time that Democrats in the U.S. Senate are trying to pressure Republicans into allowing a debate on the issue in the wake of Sunday's massacre in Orlando, Fla.
Democrat Jay Sidie, of Mission Woods, one of three Democrats seeking to unseat Third District Congressman Kevin Yoder, this week called on Yoder to back legislation that would prevent people on the FBI's terrorist watch list from buying guns.
“It’s beyond comprehension that Congressman Yoder believes that suspects on the terrorist watch list — who are already banned from flying — should be able to buy weapons and explosives,” Sidie said. “Congress should put aside the petty partisanship and work together to close this loophole, which is an important step in any comprehensive strategy to destroy ISIS and keep Americans safe.”
At the same time, Democrats in the U.S. Senate launched a filibuster Wednesday, blocking a vote on a bill to fund scientific research until GOP Senate leaders allow a debate on gun legislation.
Yoder's office issued the following statement in response to Sidie's remarks:
"Known terrorists shouldn't be allowed to buy weapons of any kind in the United States. Period. In the case of (Orlando massacre suspect) Omar Mateen, he was neither on the terrorist watch list nor the no-fly list. We need robust and renewed efforts to identify and stop radical Islamic terrorism before it occurs both abroad and in the homeland. It's time our President takes ISIS seriously and turn our attention to the root cause of this attack."
One state lawmaker will get a proverbial baptism by fire next week when that person takes office on the first day of what is expected to be a highly contentious special session.
Democrat Jim Gartner, of Topeka, is widely expected to be chosen in the coming days to replace Rep. Annie Tietze, who resigned her seat last week.
Tietze had already announced she would not seek another term, and Gartner had filed to run in that race. Gartner worked as a consultant for AT&T until his retirement two years ago. He is currently president of the Auburn-Washburn school district board of education.
But on June 6, Tietze submitted her resignation to Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach's office then transmitted the resignation to the chief clerk of the House, but word of it didn't circulate outside that office until over the weekend.
That means Democratic precinct committee officials from the 53rd District in central Topeka will have to meet to elect a replacement, which they are expected to do before the special session.
If Gartner is chosen, he would not only serve during the special session but would also be able to run as the "incumbent" in the general election against Republican Richard Kress.
Tietze's resignation came two days before Gov. Sam Brownback called for a special session starting June 23 to address a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling on school funding equity.
On May 27, the court struck down the most recent change lawmakers made to the way state aid for local option budgets, and it has threatened to block the spending of any money for public schools if lawmakers do not fix the problem by June 30, the last day of the current fiscal year.
Republican leaders in the Legislature have harshly criticized that ruling and the threat to close schools. The House and Senate judiciary committees will meet later this week, in advance of the special session, and it is likely that they will consider additional measures aimed at limiting the court's ability to order such remedies in school funding lawsuits.
Kansans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with their state government and with their choice of presidential candidates, according to a new poll released Friday.
But when given a choice between the two parties’ presumptive nominees, a plurality (43-36 percent) said they prefer Democrat Hillary Clinton to Republican Donald Trump, while 21 percent are currently undecided.
If those trends hold through November, it would mark a historic shift in Kansas politics, where no Democratic presidential candidate has won Kansas since 1964, when Lyndon Johnson carried it over Barry Goldwater, 54-45 percent.
The poll by John Zogby Strategies was commissioned by the Kansas Health Foundation and was released Friday in conjunction with a symposium being conducted in Wichita. The random survey of 433 registered voters was conducted June 4-6 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percent.
Speaking in a telephone interview from Wichita, pollster John Zogby said the results were surprising for such a solidly Republican state as Kansas.
“The Republicans have some work to do to earn the red state status this time,” he said. “You’ve got the presumptive nominee, Trump, polling only 36 percent. That’s some making up to do.”
But Kansas University political science professor Patrick Miller said the numbers weren’t completely surprising, especially on the Democratic side where Clinton’s 43 percent is about on par with how Democratic presidential candidates tend to do in Kansas.
“That’s a little bit better than (President Barack) Obama did,” he said. “So if you assume also that Trump is toxic, Clinton hasn’t closed the deal with Millennials yet, she probably has some room to grow. I think Clinton will do better than the average Democratic candidate. I don’t think she’ll win Kansas, but I think she’ll probably get a few percent better than Obama.”
One of the keys to the race in Kansas will be which candidate can win over the 21 percent of voters who are still undecided, and that includes a large number from both Democrats and Republicans, but especially independents.
Zogby said his poll showed 12 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans are still undecided about the race. But among independent and unaffiliated voters who make up 30 percent of all registered voters in Kansas, 31 percent remain undecided.
And among 18- to 34-year-olds, the so-called “Millennial” generation voters who went overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 and 2012, Clinton leads 44-29 percent in Kansas, with 27 percent still undecided.
“I’m going to extrapolate here and suggest that she hasn’t closed the deal,” Zogby said. “That’s probably the 12 percent undecided Democrats right there.”
Miller said it could also be a reflection that both Clinton and Trump have not yet won over a big part of their own parties, which voted overwhelmingly for Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Ted Cruz in the March 5 Kansas caucuses.
“Trump, you look at this and it’s like, this is vastly underperforming,” he said. “Maybe that’s not closing the deal with the evangelical base. Maybe that’s the low support from independents who might normally vote Republican. So I think that’s kind of one way of interpreting it. Clinton does a little bit better than Obama, given the context, but Trump in Kansas really has a whole lot of solidifying of his base to do.”
The survey sample did include a larger proportion of college-educated voters (50 percent) than the adult population as a whole (31 percent), and that is a key demographic group with which Trump routinely polls poorly.
But Miller said the sample is actually a close reflection of the population that actually turns out to vote in Kansas.
Other findings in the election survey seem to match what has been found in other national polls: Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) said they are dissatisfied with the choice of nominees; and nearly a fourth of those polled (24 percent) said the main reason they are voting is because they strongly oppose the other candidate.
That was more true among Republicans (22 percent) than Democrats (12 percent), while 27 percent of independents and other-party voters said their choice was based on opposition to the other candidate.
Zogby said that is consistent with what polls in other states and nationwide surveys have shown.
“What makes this all really so fascinating is that you have two of the best known figures in the country, and two of the least-liked figures in public life, who are now presumptive nominees for their party,” he said.
State political issues
The poll also showed 71 percent of those surveyed have a generally unfavorable opinion about the performance of Kansas government and nearly two-thirds (65 percent) don’t believe it’s doing a good job spending or saving taxpayers’ money.
Another 60 percent don’t believe the state is spending enough to ensure a quality education for Kansas children, and just over half, 56 percent, say it’s not doing enough to provide a safety net for poor and low-income residents.
Those findings come just two weeks before Kansas lawmakers are scheduled to return for a special session to respond to a state Supreme Court ruling on school finance equity. Earlier polls by the Docking Institute at Fort Hays State University have also found broad dissatisfaction with the Kansas Legislature and the level of funding it provides to public schools.
Zogby said he wasn’t familiar enough with local races to offer an opinion about what that means for upcoming legislative races, “but it does suggest to me that there’s a nasty mood and that it’s not great, all things being equal, to be an incumbent.”
Miller, on the other hand, said the 2016 races so far display all the elements needed for a “wave” election, the kind that produces a wholesale shift in partisan or philosophical control of the Legislature. But he said it’s still too early to tell if that will happen.
“Do you have the right context for that,” he said. “Absolutely. (Gov. Sam) Brownback is unpopular, Trump is unpopular. Granted, Clinton is unpopular too, but Trump’s unpopularity changes that dynamic a little bit.”
“You have (Gov. Sam) Brownback unpopular, Trump unpopular and very negative assessments of Kansas government, so that creates the right atmosphere,” he said. “You have a fair number of seemingly good quality candidates. So I think really what that comes down to is going to be race-by-race: can these challengers stay on message, with the right message to appeal to voters, which is basically being anti-Brownback.”
Read more of the poll results here.
As Kansans wait to learn whether Gov. Sam Brownback will call a special session and whether the Legislature will respond to a Supreme Court order to fix the school funding system before July 1, most of the discussion has centered on the possibility that the court could order the shutdown of public schools.
But there is another option at the court’s disposal, one specifically mentioned in the opinion and one that some lawmakers are also worrying about.
That would be to lift the stay on the District Court’s remedy order, issued in June 2015, and order the state treasurer and the Kansas State Board of Education to distribute funds according to the old formula that lawmakers repealed and changed earlier that year.
“We find this remedy regarding (local option budget equalization) aid appropriate, both because it is constitutionally necessary and because it is the least disruptive and most compatible with (current school funding law) going forward,” the three-judge panel wrote at the time.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case had asked the Supreme Court to do just that, and the majority opinion alluded to that possibility but chose instead, for the time being, to give the Legislature another chance to craft its own remedy before the June 30 deadline.
But Justice Lee Johnson, in a separate opinion, said that if it were up to him, he would have lifted the stay a long time ago.
“If this court had not issued a stay on the district court's remedial orders on June 30, 2015, the public educational system in Kansas would have avoided yet another year of unconstitutional inequity,” he wrote.
That was among the topics of discussion Wednesday when Senate Republicans caucused to discuss the court’s ruling, and it appeared to be just as unpopular with them as the option of closing down the schools.
Senate Vice President Jeff King, an attorney from Independence, explained how that was one of the options the court left open. And he called attention to the fact that while the Supreme Court had dismissed certain defendants from the case that the three-judge panel had added, it specifically kept State Treasurer Ron Estes as a defendant.
“So the court has retained the ability to personally hold Ron Estes in contempt of court in the future if they were to issue an order that money be appropriated and, say, Treasurer Estes chose not to,” King explained.
Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, was incredulous.
“For clarification, we repealed the old formula,” he said. “How can the court revive a statute that no longer exists? I don’t understand where this authority comes from.”
Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, said such an action would amount to “appropriating money,” something many lawmakers believe is exclusively a legislative function.
“Yes, that would be an effective appropriation of state funds,” an attorney from the Revisor of Statutes office said.
The Kansas State Department of Education has said returning to the old equalization formula and fully funding it would cost about $38 million more than what is currently in the budget.
But some senators noted that the cost of such an order could go even higher. That’s because school districts set their budgets in August. Seeing that the court is making more money available, those that haven’t already levied the maximum local option budget allowed could increase those LOBs, thus forcing the state to pay even more equalization aid.
Justice Johnson acknowledged that his remedy would be controversial but argued that it would be justified.
“I acknowledge the State's complaint that such an order would violate the separation of powers by encroaching upon the legislative branch's constitutional authority to appropriate money,” he said. “But the legislature has repeatedly failed or refused to exercise its Article 2 constitutional authority to fulfill its Article 6 constitutional responsibility with respect to the educational interests of this state,” Johnson wrote.”
“In my view,” he said, “maintaining the integrity of our state constitution and providing equitable educational opportunities for our children are too important for this court to be constrained by any concern that the legislature will be offended that we told it how to do its job. After all, this court has its own job to do, as well.”
Sitting in the Senate Republican caucus meeting Wednesday as elected lawmakers openly talked about defying the Kansas Supreme Court if it closes schools next month, it was hard for people of a certain age not to think back about Richard Nixon and Watergate.
At the height of that scandal, a federal judge ordered the White House to hand over hundreds of hours of tapes of conversations in the Oval Office that had been secretly recorded. The White House refused and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Nixon White House had never been particularly forthcoming with information, and the people there had little apparent respect for the authority of any other branch of government to tell them what they could or could not do, up to and including the secret bombing of Cambodia.
So there was naturally great concern about how Nixon would respond to a Supreme Court order to hand over the tapes — tapes that everyone knew would lead to the search for the proverbial "smoking gun" that would bring Nixon down.
As the political tension reached its zenith, the question being asked in American living rooms throughout the country was, "If the president of the United States doesn't have to obey a court order, why should anyone else?" It challenged the very fundamental American notion that no person is above the law, not even the president.
Ultimately, the only power any court has is the power that the public agrees it has. Its power is based on the shared public acceptance that its rulings, however much one might disagree with them, must be obeyed. Day in and day out, that sentiment generally goes unquestioned in Kansas and across the country.
It was a constitutional crisis in the truest sense of the term. In the end, though, Nixon did turn over the tapes, which did produce the "smoking gun." Whatever support he had left in Congress by that time suddenly evaporated, and before the week was out Nixon had resigned.
Later, during a series of interviews with British TV host David Frost, Nixon gave this bone-chilling assessment about his view of presidential power: "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal."
"By definition?" Frost asked. "Exactly, exactly," Nixon replied.
Frost was asking about the president's power to order covert intelligence operations, both at home and abroad, in the interests of national security. And Nixon's response reflected the kind of expansive view about presidential power that historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. had described in the title of his 1973 book, "The Imperial Presidency."
Fast-forward to the present and Wednesday’s Senate GOP caucus meeting.
"Eventually, we're going to have to stand up to this court and let them know that we are the Legislature, they are not the Legislature. Capitulating with them is, I think, a poor strategy and would continue to be unsuccessful," said Sen. Jeff Melcher, of Leawood.
"We are the appropriators. We are the policymakers. End of discussion," said Sen. Julia Lynn, of Olathe.
"We're going to listen to a court that can't even follow the law?" asked Sen. Greg Smith, of Overland Park. "They have one job, and one job only, and that is to reason and listen to the evidence and make an opinion. And that's all it is, an opinion. They can't tell us what to do. They can opine, and that's the end of their authority."
In the Nixon era, the fear was that his expansive sense of presidential power could erode the power of the other branches, along with public confidence in them. The president, after all, is a citizen like everyone else. If Nixon could defy the court, why couldn't anybody?
Likewise, if taken to their logical extreme, the comments of those legislators Wednesday might lead one to ask: If the Legislature doesn't have to obey a court order, why should a divorced parent who has been ordered to pay child support? Why should any debtor who has been ordered to repay his creditor?
It seemed that the only thing missing from Wednesday's debate was for someone to stand up and say, "When the Legislature does it, that means it is not illegal."
Burdett Loomis, a Kansas University political science professor and an active Democrat, said it's not unreasonable to think that Kansas is witnessing the emergence of an "Imperial Legislature."
"It does strike me that the Legislature thinks that whatever it does should not be questioned," he said. "And it’s even broader than that. They think they represent the state, so if they want to not enforce federal laws, or reach down to the local level and tell localities what to do, all wisdom resides in the state and the state Legislature."
Loomis, who worked briefly in Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' administration, said the trend became noticeable after Brownback and his conservative allies swept the 2010 elections in Kansas, wresting control of the Kansas House from the coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans who had formed an effective governing majority. And it was sealed two years later when conservatives purged the Kansas Senate of most moderate Republicans in the 2012 GOP primaries.
In some ways, Loomis said, what Kansas is seeing now goes beyond what America saw in the Nixon White House.
"I think in the end, it was the legislative branch that came to Nixon and said, you’ve got to go. It was Nixon defying the court in every way," he said. "Here you’ve got both the governor and the Legislature. The governor could have stepped up and demanded the Legislature confront the issues before it. But he was unwilling and they were unwilling."
Brownback so far has not said whether he will call a special session later this month to deal with the school finance issue. And even if he did, it remains unclear whether the Legislature can muster the votes to pass a bill that would satisfy the court.
TOPEKA — Democratic Sen. Tom Holland, of Baldwin City, filed for re-election Thursday, saying he will continue to fight Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's tax policies.
His filing means that all six incumbent lawmakers from Douglas County are seeking re-election this year. All but two of them, Democratic Reps. John Wilson and Boog Highberger, have already drawn at least one opponent.
Holland is finishing his second term in the Senate's 3rd District, which covers the southern edge of Lawrence, eastern Douglas County and part of Leavenworth County. He's currently the ranking Democrat on the Assessment and Taxation Committee, Commerce Committee and a Ways and Means subcommittee on general government and gaming.
He faces a potentially strong Republican opponent, Echo Van Meteren, in the general election. She is an advertising consultant and wife of GOP strategist Chris Van Meteren, a principal in the Singularis Group consulting firm that works closely with the Kansas Republican Party.
But the district leans Democratic. Paul Davis carried it with 56 percent of the gubernatorial vote in 2014, and President Barack Obama pulled in 46 percent in 2012, which was higher than his statewide average. Holland won his race that year with 53 percent of the vote over former Rep. Anthony Brown.
Holland's neighboring colleague in the Senate, Democrat Marci Francisco, of Lawrence, also has a Republican challenger this year, Meredith Richey, of Perry.
On the House side, Democratic Rep. Barbara Ballard faces both a primary challenger, Steven X. Davis, and a Republican challenger, Michael Lindsey.
Republican Rep. Tom Sloan will face the same primary challenger he defeated two years ago, Jeremy Ryan Pierce. Sloan won that race, 76-24 percent.
The deadline for candidates to file for the 2016 elections is noon on June 1.
Wichita attorney files for Congress
Wichita attorney Dan Giroux filed Thursday to run against Congressman Mike Pompeo in the 4th Congressional District.
He is the second Democrat to enter that race, but clearly the favorite among the Democratic establishment over Robert Leon Tillman, who has run twice before.
Giroux has been raising money since early this year and reported in April that he'd raised $127,000, relatively little compared with the $1.1 million that Pompeo reported at that time.
The 4th District hasn't been held by a Democrat since former Rep. Dan Glickman lost his re-election bid in 1994. But Giroux said he thinks the district is ripe for a turnover this year, citing the relatively poor economic conditions in Wichita and the rest of the south-central Kansas district.
Among other things, Giroux said he opposes the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which he said would put workers in the Wichita area in direct competition with lower-wage workers in east Asia.
Pompeo, a staunch conservative, is seeking his fourth term in the U.S. House. He briefly toyed with the idea of challenging U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, who is up for re-election this year, but he abandoned that idea in April and filed for another term in the House.
Pompeo won his last election with two-thirds of the vote over Democrat Perry L. Schuckman. That came after a bitter GOP primary against former Congressman Todd Tiahrt. Pompeo won that contest, 63-37 percent.
This story has been updated from an earlier version to clarify Giroux's position on the Trans Pacific Partnership.
Members of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission said Wednesday that they plan to seek more information about a new Lawrence-based political action committee whose name, they say, may not comply with a new law that says a name must give some indication of what the PAC is all about.
But Lawrence residents who follow politics closely probably wouldn't have any trouble decoding the name of the "Building On Our Greatness Political Action Committee," or BOOG PAC.
Democratic Rep. Boog Highberger, of Lawrence, confirmed after the meeting that some of his supporters formed the PAC. And while he does not accept contributions from PACs, lobbyists or trade associations, he does plan to encourage those donors to give to the PAC instead, so the money can be used to help elect House members from either party "who will promote the environment, education, fair tax policy and women's reproductive rights."
Highberger noted that state law does not allow legislators to be actively involved in running a PAC. Nor can they donate to PACs or transfer money to them from their own campaign war chests.
State law also requires PACs that are affiliated with larger organizations or businesses to reflect that in the name of the PAC. Independent PACs must have names that reflect what they are about.
One of the first controversies in Kansas surrounding PAC names came from It's Time to Fix Stupid - Kansas, a Wichita-based group that started as a Facebook page but later grew to become a political action committee. That group got around the law by forming a nonprofit foundation by the same name and making the PAC an official arm of the foundation.
Other, more prominent PACs have run into similar issues, including the Bluestem Fund PAC, established by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, and the Prairie Fire PAC that was established by Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Republican Sen. Kay Wolf's decision Tuesday not to seek re-election to her 8th District seat in Johnson County has prompted other candidates to change which offices they're running for.
The first, which we reported at the time, was Rep. Barbara Bollier, a moderate Republican from Mission Hills, who is now running for the Senate seat, with Wolf's endorsement. And then Wednesday, Democrat Jerry Stogsdill of Prairie Village, who had filed to challenge Wolf, pulled out of that race to run instead for Bollier's 21st District House seat.
In addition, Walter Wright, a recent graduate of Shawnee Mission North High School, told local media Tuesday that he is withdrawing from the 21st District race. He had filed as a Republican to challenge Bollier. For the time being, at least, that leaves the Democrat Stogsdill as the only official candidate in a district made up mainly of upscale-to-middle class residential neighborhoods.
Elsewhere, moderate Republican Rep. Don Hill's decision to step down from his 60th District House seat in Emporia prompted two other Republicans to jump into that race: Mark Schreiber, vice president of government affairs for Westar Energy, who is a close friend of Hill's; and Steve Pearson, a self-described "constitutional conservative" who works as a military contractor constructing computerized war games for training purposes.
One moderate Republican drops out of House race; another files for Senate; Highberger files for re-election
Rep. Don Hill, R-Emporia, surprised many people Monday when he announced he will not seek re-election to his 60th District House seat.
Hill, a pharmacist who has served seven terms in the House, has been a leader among the dwindling faction of moderate Republicans who often found themselves at odds against Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the conservative House leadership.
He had earlier filed for re-election this year, but told his hometown Emporia Gazette on Monday that he had decided to retire from the Legislature at the end of this year.
Hill was thought to be in a relatively safe district where no other candidates had filed as of Tuesday afternoon. Democrat Paul Davis carried that district with nearly 59 percent of the vote in the 2014 gubernatorial race.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Hill said he believes the Legislature will move back toward the center in the 2016 elections, and he wants the person who fills his seat to have some experience under his or her belt when a new governor is elected in 2018.
He didn't mention any names as a possible successor but said there may be as many as three or four candidates file within the next few days, including, "at least one who will be extraordinarily capable and talented and a good fit for the Emporia district."
Meanwhile, another prominent moderate from the House, Rep. Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills, filed paperwork Tuesday to run for the Senate seat currently held by the more conservative incumbent Sen. Kay Wolf, R-Prairie Village, who now says she plans to retire from the Legislature.
Bollier is a retired physician who angered House Speaker Ray Merrick last year by coming out fully in favor of expanding the state's Medicaid program as allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act. She has also been a vocal opponent of conservative-backed bills restricting abortion in Kansas.
Wolf, a former House member, is finishing her first term in the Senate. She is generally seen as a conservative on social issues such as abortion, but more centrist on fiscal issues like Gov. Brownback's sweeping tax cuts of 2012, which she voted against.
Wolf had earlier filed for re-election, but she issued a statement Tuesday endorsing Bollier in that race.
“With experience in the legislature and knowledge of the concerns of our district, Rep. Bollier will provide capable leadership and be a strong advocate for Johnson County,” Wolf said.
One Democrat, Jerry Stogsdill of Prairie Village, has also filed in that race.
In other races around the state:
• Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, filed for re-election Tuesday to his 46th District seat. No other candidates have filed in that race, and it's unlikely any serious contender will since Highberger won the seat in 2014 with 84 percent of the vote.
That leaves Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, as the only member of the local delegation who has not yet filed, although he has indicated he intends to. Republican Echo Van Meteren, an advertising consultant and wife of GOP strategist Chris Van Meteren, has filed to challenge Holland in the general election.
• Former Sen. Jean Schodorf, who switched parties to become a Democrat after losing her 2012 GOP primary, filed this week to run for a seat in the Kansas House. Schodorf, who now lives in Sedan, filed for the 12th District seat in southeast Kansas being vacated by Republican Rep. Virgil Peck of Tyro, who is now running for the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Senate Vice President Jeff King of Independence.
Schodorf now serves as secretary of the Kansas Democratic Party. Republican Doug Blex of Independence is the only other candidate who has filed in that race.
• And in Wichita, Democrat Robert Leon Tillman has filed, again, to challenge 4th District Congressman Mike Pompeo, a Republican. Tillman is a retired court services officer and social service worker who challenged Pompeo in 2012, losing by more than a two-to-one margin. He also ran unsuccessfully in 2008 for the Democratic nomination in the 4th District, losing to then-state Rep. Raj Goyle.
Moody’s Investors Service said this week that most states can expect their revenues to continue growing through the end of this year, but at a slower pace than last year. And it said Kansas revenue growth may be more sluggish than most.
That won't immediately affect the state's bond rating, but the rating agency did say that in Kansas and a few other states in similar positions, "a slower growth trend is an unwelcome but not insurmountable challenge that will make budgetary decisions more difficult."
The assessment of Kansas was based largely on the state's own revenue forecasts that were updated in April, but the report also shows how the state's fiscal condition compares with other states'.
The states most in trouble this year are the ones most reliant on the energy sector, such as Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and North Dakota, Moody's said. Those poised to do best this year are clustered in the western United States, led by California, Colorado, Oregon and Utah, states Moody's cited as having "an advantageous industrial base, a dynamic demographic profile and a well-educated workforce."
But Kansas, Connecticut and Rhode Island were categorized as "laggards" among non-energy states where, "poor stock market performance in tax year 2015, a modestly more muted economic environment and cautious spending habits mean that tax receipts are poised for a pullback."
Specifically, Moody's noted that employment and income are two of the best predictors of future revenue growth, and Kansas experienced job growth of less than 1 percent from March 2015 to March 2016,
State officials in April lowered their official forecast of revenue receipts for the fiscal year that starts July 1 and predicted taxes flowing into the state general fund would grow only 1.3 percent.
Moody's last reviewed the state's credit rating May 3 when it lowered the state's rating outlook to "negative," but affirmed its overall rating of Aa2, which is only two notches lower than Aaa, the agency's highest credit rating.
Factors that it said could eventually lead to a downgrade include "continued underfunding of pension plans and growth in unfunded pension liabilities," and "failure to adopt measures to increase revenues or decrease expenditures sufficient to restore structural balance."
Third Democrat files to challenge Yoder in 3rd District; Democrats betting Trump puts district in play
Jay Sidie, a Johnson County businessman, announced Thursday he plans to file as a Democrat to challenge Republican Congressman Kevin Yoder in the 3rd District.
That would make Sidie the third Democrat to enter the race. Reggie Marselus, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in 2014, and Nathaniel McLaughlin, a health care administrator from Kansas City, Kan., have officially filed in that race.
Sidie is a financial advisor and founder of his own firm, Counterpunch Financial in Mission Woods.
Greg Goode, a Louisburg Republican, has also filed to challenge Yoder in the GOP primary.
In his announcement, Sidie tried to link Yoder with Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, saying he "will always stand up for middle class families and fight back against the devastating Yoder-Brownback education cuts."
Yoder, a former member of the Kansas House, was first elected to Congress in 2010, the same year Brownback stepped down from the U.S. Senate to run for governor, so the two have never served together in the same level of government.
Kansas Democrats are hoping to capitalize at all levels this year off of Brownback's low approval ratings. A Morning Consult poll released last week showed him at just 26 percent, making him the least popular governor in the United States.
And nationally, they're also banking on the idea that having Donald Trump at the top of the ticket will be a drag on other GOP candidates further down the ballot.
In March, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced it was trying to recruit a candidate against Yoder, believing that having Donald Trump at the top of the GOP ticket could make him vulnerable because the 3rd District — Johnson and Wyandotte Counties, and a small portion of Miami County — has a high percentage of college-educated and suburban voters, two key demographic groups where Trump's approval ratings are the lowest.
But most observers still rate Yoder as the prohibitive favorite in that race. He won his last re-election bid against Democrat Kelly Kultala, 60 percent to 40 percent.
Kansas Republicans hasten to point out that Hillary Clinton's approval ratings are not much better than Trump's, and they don't believe she'll be able to motivate Democrats to turn out and vote in the same way Barack Obama was able to do in 2008 and 2012.
Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, a 20-year veteran of the Kansas House and former chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, has announced she will not seek re-election to her 106th District seat this year, a move that could clear the way for former Rep. Clay Aurand of Belleville to return to the Statehouse.
Schwartz and Aurand have been longtime friends, but they were pitted against each other when their districts were combined during the 2012 reapportionment. The district stretches along the Nebraska border and now includes Marshall, Republic and Washington Counties and part of Jewell County.
Schwartz served as head of Appropriations during the 2007 and 2008 sessions, when Rep. Melvin Neufeld was Speaker of the House.
One Democrat, Beth Owens of Hanover, has already filed in the race, and it's expected that at least one other Democrat will also file. But the district leans strongly toward Republicans. Gov. Sam Brownback carried it with more than 60 percent of the vote in 2014.
Schwartz said in a telephone interview Tuesday that Aurand has indicated he plans to file, but she said there may be as many as three Republicans in the race.
Meanwhile, competition is heating up in west Topeka, where a Democrat has filed to run in the 20th Senate District, a seat currently held by Republican Sen. Vicki Schmidt, who has already filed for re-election.
Schmidt was one of the few moderate Republicans who survived the conservative takeover of the Senate following the 2012 GOP primaries. She barely survived a primary challenge against conservative Joe Patton, winning that primary by just 160 votes out of more than 11,000 votes cast, for a margin of 1.5 percent.
Last week, Patton filed to run again in that race, and on Monday, Candace Ayars, a Topeka physician, filed as a Democrat, which would potentially give some moderate Republicans a place to go should Patton win the GOP primary this time.
The district includes the upscale portions of west Topeka and western Shawnee County, along with a big portion of the more conservative Wabaunsee County. Politically, it's about evenly split. Democrat Paul Davis carried the district in the 2014 gubernatorial race, 55-41 percent, but Republican Mitt Romney carried it in the 2012 presidential race, 54-44 percent.
And in Sedgwick County, former U.S. Army Sgt. Benjamin Poteete of Goddard, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, has filed as a Democrat to run against Republican Sen. Dan Kerschen of Garden Plain in the 26th District.
Kerschen was first elected to the House in 2008 and was one of the conservatives allied with Gov. Sam Brownback, who defeated an incumbent GOP senator, Dick Kelsey, in the 2012 primaries. He was unopposed in that year's general election.
That district leans strongly toward Republicans. Brownback carried it with 56 percent of the vote in 2014, and Romney carried it with 69 percent in 2012. It includes part of southwest Wichita as well as the cities of Haysvile, Clearwater, Goddard, Garden Plain and Cheney.
TOPEKA — A new poll released Thursday by the media and technology firm Morning Consult shows Republican Gov. Sam Brownback with only a 26 percent approval rating, making him the least popular governor in the United States.
The nationwide survey of more than 66,000 registered voters in all 50 states was conducted from January through early May.
Within Kansas, the survey included 650 voters. Of those, 65 percent said they disapprove of the job Brownback has done as governor. The Kansas portion of the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent.
It was the second time in six months that Brownback has found himself at the bottom of the list, and his ratings were unchanged from the firm’s earlier poll in November.
But the latest poll could have significant meaning heading into the 2016 elections, and it will surely provide ammunition for Democrats and moderate Republicans who are trying to rebuild a working majority coalition that could wrest control of the House and Senate where conservatives — including many strong allies of Brownback — hold solid control.
“This poll was not shocking to me, or probably anyone in Kansas right now because of the effects his policies have had on the state,” said Kansas Democratic Party executive director Kerry Gooch. “Definitely we plan on holding all of the Republican incumbents responsible for what the governor has done. This will play big time into the elections.”
But Republicans say they’ve heard that before, noting that Brownback had high disapproval ratings going into the 2014 elections. He still won re-election that year, albeit with slightly less than 50 percent of the vote, and Republicans picked up five seats in the Kansas House.
“I don’t think it’ll affect much at all,” said Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party. “I don’t think a lot of voters link the governor with legislative races.”
Brownback’s spokeswoman Eileen Hawley put it more bluntly:
“For nearly 20 years and five statewide elections, the media have been proven wrong on this issue,” she said. “Despite the continuing media drumbeat, Kansans continue to support Governor Brownback’s conservative policies, including work requirements for people on welfare, the right to life of the unborn, the right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms, lower taxes and less government.”
Barker acknowledged, though, that the low polling numbers might mean Brownback will be less visible on the campaign trail this year as GOP candidates, especially those in vulnerable districts, try to make the campaign about themselves, and not the governor.
“The governor realizes he’s unpopular,” he said. “He will do what the candidates want him to. If they want him to help with a fundraiser or contact big donors, he’ll do it. It’s not going to hurt his ego. He knew this was going to be tough.”
TOPEKA — Republican Gov. Sam Brownback predicted Wednesday that GOP voters will eventually rally around Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential race in the same way people sometimes rally around military leaders during a national crisis.
“It’s not unlike times in the past where a military leader would step up and say, ‘The country’s going down. I’ll step up and take charge. I’m going to fix the system.’ And in the modern era, it’s been the businessman that takes on that,” Brownback said.
Although Brownback endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio during the Kansas caucuses, he has since said he would support Trump, who is now the party’s presumptive nominee, in the general election.
But many other national Republicans are holding back, at least for now, including both former Presidents Bush and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan. And according to national reports, a large number of Christian conservative voters are struggling with the idea of supporting a billionaire real estate tycoon, showman, frequent guest at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion and current owner of gambling casinos.
The Washington Post’s Tom Hamburger wrote this week that Trump has won endorsements from some evangelical groups, most recently the American Renewal Project, but other faith groups have urged their followers to reject Trump for what they called his “vulgar racial and religious demagoguery.”
In the primaries, however, surveys have shown Trump winning over evangelical voters. Steve Mitchell, CEO of a Michigan-based polling and consulting firm, wrote about that phenomenon recently in RealClear Politics, saying that for many, Trump is seen as a kind of “messianic” figure, in the sense of being a “liberator” or “defender.”
“Although certainly not Christ-like, Trump is perceived to be strong and bold; a leader that will help evangelicals navigate a world they believe is too often adrift and too different from what they want.”
Brownback offered much the same characterization.
“You’ve had a real difficult economic season for many, many Americans, and generally after you have a recession followed by, here, very little recovery out of it, you get a populist response,” he said.
Polls currently show Clinton leading Trump nationally by seven to 11 percentage points, and the online prediction market Pivit Politics currently gives Clinton a 70 percent chance of becoming the next president. Still, another big concern for Republicans is the effect Trump could have further down the ballot, in congressional and state races.
Voter turnout is typically higher in presidential years than in off-year elections because national races draw more interest and enthusiasm than state legislative contests. So if big parts of the Republican base are not enthusiastic about their party’s presidential nominee, the fear is that many will stay home, which could drag down other Republicans, especially those in vulnerable districts.
Brownback, however, said he sees the same thing happening on the Democratic side, and the election could come down to a contest over which candidate is the least unacceptable.
In fact, a recent McClatchy-Marist national poll found that one-quarter of the voters who support Clinton’s Democratic rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, said they would not support Clinton if she becomes the nominee.
“I think that there’s danger that a lot of the electorate could sit this one out, on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “I mean, what’s the enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton? But that’s what you’re staring at now as the probability.”
The secretary of the Kansas Senate on Monday officially delivered the final budget bill to Gov. Sam Brownback, thus starting the 10-day clock for the governor to sign the bill and make any line-item vetoes of provisions he doesn't like.
The 10-day clock expires on Thursday, May 19.
Most observers think it's highly unlikely Brownback would veto the bill in its entirety, despite questions that it violates the Kansas Constitution's requirement that the Legislature provide "for raising sufficient revenue to defray the current expenses of the state for two years." Instead, it assumes Brownback will have to sweep money out of the highway fund and make significant cuts in general fund spending in order to balance the budget.
But the bill is also full of legislative "provisos" that direct the governor to where he can and can't make some of those cuts, and that's where it's possible he could use his line-item veto authority. Those include:
• Higher Education: The one stirring the most controversy currently concerns how he would allocate cuts to the state's six universities, using a formula that would make Kansas University and Kansas State University shoulder a bigger share of the $17.7 million in cuts. That would mean an extra $1 million out of each school's funding for next year, on top of the cuts they are already scheduled to take: $4 million for KU and $3 million for K-State.
KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and K-State Interim President Gen. Richard Myers launched a public relations campaign last week, mobilizing their alumni to contact the governor and urge him to veto that provision. The Kansas Board of Regents has also weighed in on that issue, saying that constitutionally, they should be in charge of supervising how money is allocated among the universities, not the Legislature.
• K-12 education: The budget also includes a "hold harmless" provision for K-12 education, saying that public schools are to be spared from any future allotment cuts that occur in the next fiscal year.
Administration officials have said they're not overly happy with that idea because it only means other areas of the budget — namely higher education and Medicaid, to name the next two biggest pots of money — would have to take proportionately larger cuts.
• State hospitals: Brownback has suggested that it may be time for Kansas to get out of the business of owning and operating state mental hospitals, and he has actively called for exploring the possibility of either outsourcing or privatizing the operations of state hospitals in Osawatomie and Larned.
Both hospitals suffer from chronic under-staffing, due in large part to the low wages offered for positions there. At Osawatomie, the problem is compounded by the abundance of higher-paying health care jobs in the nearby Kansas City market, while at Larned the state suffers from the same problem other employers face: recruiting people to move to a small western Kansas town that is hundreds of miles away from the nearest big city.
Lawmakers inserted language into the budget bill that, on the one hand, makes the task of privatizing a little easier by providing that any new superintendent, physician or other staff hired at those institutions will unclassified, thereby removing them from civil service protection and making it easier to change their job duties and descriptions.
But on the other hand, they also inserted language that prohibits the governor from executing an agreement to outsource or privatize either hospital without approval by the full Legislature.
• Docking State Office Building: An issue that's probably of little importance to most people outside Topeka, but one that has stirred an amazing amount of controversy.
The 12-story building just west of the Statehouse is recognizable by its flat shape and bluish-tinted windows. Built in the mid-1950s, it reflects the architectural trends of its time, which put a premium on low-cost, no-frills design. First known as the Kansas State Office Building, it was renamed in 1987 — fittingly, some have said — to honor a former governor whose motto was "austere but adequate government."
In addition to wanting the state out of the hospital business, another of Brownback's initiatives has been trying to get out of the real estate-owning business. Many of the agencies located in the Docking building have been moved to leased office space elsewhere, and the administration has called for demolishing Docking.
But the Legislature so far has not gone along, mainly due to the unexpectedly high cost of relocating the building's "power plant," a facility that pipes heating and air conditioning to all the other buildings in the Capitol Area Complex. Last year, the administration tried to get around that, signing a lease-purchase contract to move the power plant and putting up the Landon State Office Building east of the Capitol as collateral.
That created a firestorm of controversy, and the administration was eventually forced to cancel that contract.
The new budget bill now includes language that deletes any previous funding for its demolition and prohibits any state agency from using any funds to demolish the building or relocate the power plant without prior approval by the full Legislature.
• KPERS payment: Finally, the bill grants one of Brownback's requests, to continue delaying a $92.6 million payment into the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, which was due April 15, through the next fiscal year. But it also provides that any excess tobacco settlement funds the state receives, and any general tax revenues it receives above official estimates, be used to repay that money, with 8 percent annual interest.
Some have suggested that would zero out any potential ending balance for the state's general fund until the payment is repaid in full, which could take as long as 10 years.
There was a lot of hall chatter, and more than a few tweets, during the Kansas Legislature's wrap-up session that the House had voted on more than twice as many bills in those final five days as it had in the whole 68-day regular session.
I don't know if that's exactly true, but I have tried to cobble together some figures on the number of bills actually passed by the Legislature and sent to the governor this year, and the results lend some credence to that claim.
By my rough count, sifting through the journals of House and Senate, lawmakers did pass slightly more bills (66) during the wrap-up session than they did in the regular session (62). That's a total of 127 bills for the entire 73-day session (by Senate President Susan Wagle's count), or an average of about 1.7 bills per day.
But what really catches the eye is the number that went through on that final marathon day that started around 12:30 p.m. Sunday and lasted until 3:30 a.m. Monday: 18 bills in that one day, or more than one per hour.
Now, before getting too indignant about that, we should all probably admit that everybody procrastinates. In the news business, there's a saying that if it weren't for the last minute, nothing would ever get done. But many people have asked me why lawmakers always put everything off until the last minute, and the answer is actually fairly complicated. In the Legislature, procrastination isn't just a matter of work habits. It's also about strategy and leverage.
"That’s when the powers that be feel they have the most leverage," said Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, who has raised his voice in protest more than once about the slow and odd pace of the Legislature.
Granted, the first few weeks of a session have to be excused because that's the time when eager lawmakers are trying to introduce new bills and, they hope, get them scheduled for committee hearings. That takes time. And even in even-numbered years like this one, when bills are allowed to carry over from the previous session, the House and Senate don't just dive in to those leftover bills because most of them were abandoned the previous year for a reason.
What really drives the legislative calendar, and what makes the end of the session a whirlwind of activity that's nearly impossible to follow, is the fact that every bill in the system can be, and often is, used as a bargaining chip for something else.
That's why the vast majority of action that occurs in the wrap-up session involves conference committee reports in which several bills are bundled together. The practice known as the "gut-and-go" — whereby one bill is stripped of its contents and repackaged with the contents of two, three or sometimes even four other bills — used to be considered rare, and even a bit shady. Today, it has become standard procedure.
And so, even when bills have been through the committee process and are ready to be voted on, they can still be held back to be used as a bargaining chip later when it's time to run conference committee reports. Even seemingly innocuous bills that are noncontroversial can get held back, under the theory that putting them into a package will make passage of less palatable bills a little easier.
Sometimes, though, even that doesn't work. That was the case with the seemingly easy bill to name a bison herd in southeast Kansas after a recently deceased former legislator from that area. It ended up packaged with two bills that a lot of people had problems with: one let private zoos allow children to get up close and personal with dangerous animals like baby tigers and leopards; and another to authorize research into the production of industrial hemp.
Not surprisingly, a lot of senators had qualms about putting children into a tiger's cage. And anything that smacks of legalizing marijuana, or even tilting in that direction, gives most Kansas lawmakers heartburn. But then when somebody changed the effective date of the bison herd-naming bill, angering even the people who most wanted to honor the late legislator, the entire package collapsed from its own weight.
But there was another dynamic this year that bogged the process down even more that has many lawmakers frustrated, and worried for the future if it continues. That was the utter reluctance for the last two years of House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, to allow any bill dealing with certain subjects to be fully debated and subject to amendments on the floor of the House because doing so would open them up to amendments that neither he nor Gov. Brownback wanted to deal with.
Specifically, Merrick has tried to avoid putting bills on the open floor dealing with health care and Medicaid, for fear of a Medicaid expansion bill. The same is true with taxes, for fear of an amendment to repeal all or part of the 2012 tax cuts.
Although the House did vote on, and eventually rejected, a bill to repeal the most controversial of those tax cuts, the total exemption for certain kinds of business income, it's important to note how that bill came out of a conference committee, even though it had never been considered by either chamber before, and it was put into a Senate bill so that, under rules in the Legislature, the House would have to vote first.
Conference committee bills are not subject to amendment on the floor. They are always straight up or down votes.
In fact, of all the House bills that passed the Legislature this year, many, if not most, were actually Senate bills, the result of a gut-and-go maneuver in which the Senate put its bill into the shell of a House bill so that House members would only have the option of voting yes or no on the package as a whole.
Bills are also held back until the final days, not because anyone has designs about the contents of the bill, but because they need the bill number so it can be used as a vehicle to carry something else.
Perhaps the most glaring example of that was the final budget bill itself, Senate Bill 249, which actually began as a bill about purchasing and competitive bidding when it was introduced in February. After it passed the Senate, the House stripped out its contents and inserted a different bill dealing with the authority of state agencies to issue bonds.
The Senate did not go along with that change to its bill, and so it was sent to a conference committee where it became a vehicle for an entirely new bill, the final state budget, a bill that was never the subject of any committee hearings or public testimony — not even on the provision reallocating cuts to state universities — and could not be amended on the floor of either the House or Senate.
As the old saying goes, there are two things most people never want to watch being made: sausages and laws.
TOPEKA — Kansas Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, announced Thursday that he will not seek re-election this year, saying in part that he has become disillusioned with statehouse politics.
"The recent veto session shows the harm of putting politics over good government," King said in a statement. "Last Friday, we witnessed dozens of Democrat and Republican legislators vote against fixing the very LLC loophole they have rallied against for years. They knew the importance of restoring tax fairness. They understood that we must close the gap to restore long-term budget health. But they knew that preserving the bad law would create a campaign issue that they could exploit against their opponents in the fall. Politics over policy."
King, 40, is an attorney who grew up in Independence. He earned a bachelor's degree in international relations and economy from Brown University, a master's in agricultural economics from Cambridge University and a law degree from Yale University.
He was appointed to the Senate seat in 2010 after then-Sen. Derek Schmidt was elected attorney general. He then ran unopposed for a full term in 2012 and was named vice president after having served only two years in office. He also chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Although he frequently voted with conservatives, some of his positions moderated in recent years, particularly regarding Medicaid expansion, after a community hospital in Independence was forced to close last year. He was also part of an unsuccessful effort this year to scale back one of Gov. Sam Brownback's signature tax cuts that allows more than 330,000 farmers and business owners to pay no tax on their business income.
His announcement creates a vacancy in the heavily Republican 15th District, which includes portions of Montgomery, Neosho, Allen and Labette counties in southeast Kansas. Brownback carried the district with 58 percent of the vote in 2014.
So far, only one candidate has filed in the race, Democrat Chuck Schmidt, of Independence.