Entries from blogs tagged with “politics”
One way to measure the depths of the state's financial crisis is by the kinds of ideas people are seriously talking about to get through it.
Consider the case of the state's unclaimed property program, which some lawmakers are now seriously talking about as a way to plug, at least temporarily, the $350 million hole that has to be filled within the next seven months.
State Treasurer Ron Estes insists that is not even remotely a realistic idea, but it may take a lot to convince legislators of that.
Lawmakers come back into session Jan. 9, and roughly one-third of the Legislature will be brand new members who don't want their first official act to be passage of a massive spending cut or tax increase. They would prefer to have a little time to come up with long-term solutions to the state's fiscal crunch, but the reality is that there isn't much time.
That has caused some people to start looking longingly at a pot of money the state holds known as "unclaimed property." That's money managed by the State Treasurer's Office that includes things like abandoned bank accounts, insurance policies, utility deposits, stocks and other liquid assets that are waiting to be claimed by the rightful owners or their heirs.
The idea, which is only being talked about conceptually, would be to somehow transfer the unclaimed property, valued at around $317 million currently, plus about $58 million in accrued interest, into the general fund, boosting the balance of the fund so that it doesn't fall below zero. That would buy the state some time for lawmakers to come up with a longer term solution to the state's budget woes.
Many lawmakers campaigned this year on the idea that they want to reverse some of Gov. Sam Brownback's tax policies, especially the so-called LLC exemption that allows more than 330,000 farmers and business owners to avoid state income taxes altogether. Some also would like to raise basic income tax rates, which have been the costliest part of the 2012-2013 tax cuts, and possibly return to a system of three tax brackets instead of two.
But income tax changes typically take a year or more to produce results, and lawmakers are desperate to find something that would be relatively painless to fill in the gap.
It's hard to tell who, exactly, started the conversation. It seems to just hang in the air of the Statehouse as hall chatter, something many people have heard but nobody claims to have authored. But it seems to have enough traction that the Legislative Research Department and Estes' office acknowledge they've been asked to look into it or respond to questions about it.
Estes' office is trying to squelch the conversation.
“There is no pot of unclaimed property available to balance the state’s budget," he said in an email statement. "Any money above what’s needed to pay for anticipated claims and operate the Unclaimed Property Department is included with other idle state funds and invested, and its earnings are added to the State General Fund. We will continue working to match people with their unclaimed property because it belongs to the people of Kansas.”
Accessing the unclaimed money is not as simple as moving it from one fund to another. In fact, officials said, the money is already accounted for in the general fund, so liquidating the investments would not really produce any new money for the state, other than the estimated $58 million in accrued interest.
Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday refused to comment on speculation that he is being considered for a job in the new Trump administration.
"I'm not answering any questions on anything regarding me and the Trump administration," Brownback said Monday in brief remarks to reporters following the ceremonial lighting of the Statehouse Christmas tree.
Speculation that Brownback might leave the governor's office early was fueled Monday by the unexpected announcement that his press secretary Eileen Hawley will retire at the end of this week. But Hawley said Tuesday that her decision had nothing to do with the governor's future and that she has not even followed news about who is being considered for cabinet jobs.
Brownback served as the Kansas Agriculture Secretary from 1986 to 1990. He then left for two years to serve as a White House Fellow in 1990 and 1991 in President George H.W. Bush's administration, then returned to the state agriculture job where he stayed until 1993. He stepped down after a federal judge ruled the method used at that time to elect the secretary was unconstitutional and the Kansas Legislature passed a law giving the governor authority to appoint the state agriculture secretary.
Brownback did offer praise, however, for two other Kansans on President-elect Donald Trump's interview list: U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo of Wichita, who has already been chosen for the job of CIA Director; and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is considered a candidate for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
"Kris is a great guy and I wish him all the best," Brownback said. "That was a wonderful thing for Mike Pompeo and I think it's going to be a wonderful thing for the Trump administration."
If Pompeo is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, a special election will be called in the 4th District to elect a replacement. If Kobach leaves the Secretary of State's office, state law requires the governor to appoint a replacement.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach may have shown his hand, in the most literal sense, when he posed for a picture Sunday just before his interview with President-elect Donald Trump.
The photos, released by The Associated Press, show Kobach holding a binder for a legal pad with some papers on the outside facing the cameras. Zooming in on the document itself, the photo shows a paper titled "Department of Homeland Security, Kobach Strategic Plan For First 365 Days."
In Kansas, Kobach has been known as an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration and the lead champion of strict voting laws that require people to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to vote. During the presidential campaign, he was a vocal supporter of Trump, appearing on network news programs as a surrogate for the candidate to talk about immigration policy.
Since the election, he has served on Trump's transition team, advising the new administration about immigration, and he has been widely rumored to be in the running for an appointment in the new administration.
But the document he carried with him into the meeting — or at least the portion that is visible in the photo — may provide the clearest clues yet about what may lie ahead for immigration policy in the new Trump administration.
The first item listed reads "Bar the Entry of Potential Terrorists," and includes a comment about reactivating a registration system that would trigger government tracking of aliens coming into the country from "high-risk areas."
The second item appears to suggest stepping up deportations of aliens who have been convicted of crimes, including "193,000 criminal removal cases dropped by the Obama Administration."
There is also a reference in the middle of the page about defining a criminal alien as "any alien arrested for any crime, or any gang member." And it mentions "386 miles of existing actual wall," an apparent reference to the border wall between the United States and Mexico.
During the campaign, Trump vowed to build a wall along the entire 1,989-mile border with Mexico and to make Mexico pay for it, although he has since softened that position somewhat. He also spoke of banning all entry into the U.S. of Muslims and people from countries "compromised" by terrorism.
At the bottom of the document, most of which is covered by Kobach's jacket sleeve, are references to election laws, including an item suggesting "Draft Amendments to National Voter" [Registration Act].
That last item is of particular interest in Kansas because of a string of recent federal and state court rulings that have effectively overturned Kansas' proof-of-citizenship requirement, at least as it applies to voters who register through a motor vehicle office or by using a federal mail-in form that does not require citizenship documentation.
Kobach did not return emails and text messages seeking comment Monday, and the voicemail box on his cellphone was full. Officials in the secretary of state's office also did not return phone messages Monday.
Gov. Sam Brownback announced Monday that his press secretary, Eileen Hawley, will retire at the end of the week and that her assistant, Melika Willoughby, will take over the post.
Hawley took the job of press secretary in 2013. Before working for the Brownback administration, she worked in communications at NASA from 1992 to 2008, retiring as director of external communications for the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Her husband, former astronaut Steve Hawley, is a professor of astrophysics and director of engineering physics at the University of Kansas.
Hawley said she has no immediate plans to take another job but intends to continue working with the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, which promotes science and technology education.
"I have had a wonderful time here, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity," Hawley said of her time in the governor's office.
Willoughby, who joined the communications office in 2014, is a graduate of Hillsdale College in Michigan. Willoughby is a graduate of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Women's Leadership Series and was recently named a Publius Fellow through the Claremont Institute: Recovering the American Idea.
During her two years in the governor's office, Willoughby has been the source of some strident comments, especially in email newsletters sent out to Brownback supporters. In 2015, she described the idea of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act as "morally reprehensible" because it "creates new entitlements for able-bodied adults without dependents, prioritizing those who choose not to work before intellectually, developmentally, and physically disabled, the frail and elderly, and those struggling with mental health issues."
On her Twitter profile, Willoughby describes herself as: "Redeemed sinner. Pursuing Jesus. Loving the orphan. American. Deputy Communications Director for @govsambrownback. @Hillsdale alumna."
"Melika brings a background in communications and political philosophy that enables her to serve well in this position," Brownback said in a statement announcing the change. "I appreciate her hard work and dedication to our great state."
News that the state of Kansas now faces a $350 million budget hole for the current fiscal year did not seem to rattle Gov. Sam Brownback's administration. His office made it clear Thursday that it will wait until January, when the new Legislature convenes, to lay out a budget plan that lawmakers will have to approve.
That means the burden of approving or disapproving various proposals will rest largely on the shoulders of 165 senators and representatives, 50 of whom (30 percent) are coming in with no previous legislative experience.
Many of those incoming freshmen were elected by defeating incumbents who had supported Brownback's tax policies, and there is near-universal acceptance of the idea that the next Legislature will, at the very least, have to take a vote on whether to repeal some of the income tax cuts from 2012 and 2013, particularly the one exempting non-wage business income from state taxes, commonly known as the "LLC exemption."
But the administration's decision to wait until January to propose a budget fix probably rules out the possibility that any changes in income tax law could be used to help fill the current budget gap. That's because income tax changes typically take effect at the start of the next tax year, unless the 2017 Legislature wants to take the unusual step of raising income taxes retroactively back to Jan. 1.
"Oh, you can," said Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, who is currently the ranking Democrat on the Senate tax committee. "But once you start going down that route, there will be a backlash because we’re blindsiding people."
"I don’t know why the governor isn’t calling a special legislative session now," Holland said. "If we’re going to make income tax changes, let's do it now so it takes effect Jan. 1, 2017."
The administration, however, has firmly ruled out that possibility, and Holland said he's not aware of any effort to petition the governor and force him to call a special session. That means the $350 million hole will have to be plugged, either with spending cuts or revenue increases, in the final six months of the fiscal year instead of spreading it out over eight months.
Efforts to contact Republican leaders in the Legislature on Friday, Veterans Day, were not successful. But Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the Senate budget committee, spoke Thursday and offered a grim picture of what may lie ahead, including the possibility of large-scale layoffs of state employees and further cuts to higher education funding.
But she also mentioned some of the options lawmakers may consider in the upcoming session, such as:
• Sales tax exemptions: Kansas does not impose sales tax on a vast array of different types of purchases. The largest of those is professional services - everything from haircuts and housecleaning to legal, architectural and accounting services, and even chimney sweeping.
Some sales tax exemptions are required by federal law. Others, such as purchases made by other governmental entities like cities, counties and school districts, are intended to avoid what many would see as double taxation.
But a large number of others are simply a matter of policy choice. In addition to exempting personal and professional services, the state also exempts sales of aircraft, farm machinery and equipment, and sales made by religious, charitable and nonprofit organizations.
A Legislative Post Audit study in 2010 found that those policy-choice exemptions were costing the state around $835 million a year.
"It's huge," Holland said. "But I just don’t see us going down that road. You have all these professional business services, especially in Johnson County, that would just have a conniption."
Among other things, he said, repealing those exemptions would likely intensify the economic "border war" with Missouri by encouraging many firms to move out of Johnson County, across the state line.
The last time lawmakers reopened the issue of sales tax exemptions was after the 2015 legislative session when a special interim committee was appointed to study the issue again. That committee ended up making no recommendation, other than to have the standing tax committees continue evaluating the policies.
• Motor fuel taxes: All states, along with the federal government, charge a tax on motor fuels. It's generally considered a kind of user fee because revenue from those taxes go to pay for the roads, bridges and other infrastructure that those vehicles drive on, and in Kansas, it's one of the major sources of funding for the state's ongoing highway program, T-Works. But that program is also funded with a portion of the state's general sales tax.
In recent years, though, revenue shortfalls have prompted the Brownback administration to sweep sales tax revenue out of the highway fund to shore up the state general fund. That, in turn, has forced the Kansas Department of Transportation to delay a number highway projects that were scheduled under T-Works.
Raising the motor fuel tax would inject new money back into the highway program, thus freeing up more sales tax money for the general fund. But that would also increase the price of gasoline for consumers.
Kansas currently levies 25.03 cents per gallon in taxes on regular gasoline and gasohol, and 27.03 cents per gallon on diesel fuel. Those are already among the highest tax rates in the Midwest, but well below states like Pennsylvania, which has the highest motor fuel taxes in the country at 50.3 cents for gasoline and gasohol, and 64 cents for diesel.
Kelly also suggested Brownback might consider options that the administration has used in the past, such as delaying payments into the state's pension system, which Democrats themselves have criticized in the past, and which credit rating agencies like Moody's Investor Services have frowned upon.
Democrats running for the Kansas House took over 13 Republican seats in Tuesday's elections, but lost one of their own, which probably gives them enough to form a governing coalition with moderate Republicans on key issues like taxes and education spending.
But Democrats gained only one seat in the Kansas Senate, far fewer than they had hoped, and even it was a seat that Republicans had all but conceded well before the election.
According to unofficial results from Tuesday night — which still weren't fully complete late Wednesday morning due to late reporting in Johnson County — Democrats will hold 40 of 125 seats in the Kansas House next year and nine of 40 in the Kansas Senate.
The one Senate seat Democrats gained was the 25th District in Wichita, where incumbent Michael O'Donnell stepped down to run for county commission. Democrat Lynn Rogers beat opponent Jim Price, a Republican who has multiple criminal convictions in his background, 58-42 percent.
In the House, though, Democrats took out some GOP heavyweights, including Rep. Marc Rhoades of Newton, a former Appropriations Committee chairman, and Amanda Grosserode of Lenexa, who had chaired the House Education Budget Committee.
Also falling Tuesday night were GOP Reps. John Bradford and Tony Barton, both of Leavenworth County; Lane Hemsley of Topeka; Joe Scapa and Steve Anthimides of Wichita; Jan Pauls of Hutchinson; and Sue Boldra of Hays. Boldra lost to the same Democrat she unseated four years ago, Eber Phelps of Hays.
In addition, Democrat Cindy Neighbor of Shawnee won the seat that is currently held by Republican John Rubin, who did not run this year. And Jerry Stogsdill of Prairie Village won the seat currently held by moderate Republican Barbara Bollier, who stepped down and ran successfully for a Senate seat.
The one seat Democrats lost this year was the 63rd District in Atchison County. Democrat Jerry Henry stepped down from that seat to run for the Senate against Republican Dennis Pyle. He lost that race, however, and Republican John Eplee won that House seat.
Those Democratic gains, however, are in addition to the losses that conservative Republicans suffered in the Aug. 2 primary, when eight conservatives in the House and six in the Senate lost their seats to more moderate candidates.
Add to that the number of Republican lawmakers who retired this year — 18 in the House and eight in the Senate — and it becomes apparent that the Kansas Legislature will be a very different place in 2017 than it has been for the last four years.
Emporia State University political scientist Michael Smith said that should be enough to give Democrats and moderate Republicans a working majority on some issues. But he said there's a caveat.
"The caveat is, it’s not veto-proof," he said. "Now we have to look at the dynamics of how the governor comes in with the veto."
In recent weeks, Gov. Sam Brownback has been less adamant than he has in the past about his unwillingness to revisit his tax policies, particularly the total tax exemption for pass-through income derived from certain kinds of businesses and farm operations.
And Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, a conservative, has made public gestures showing her willingness to work with moderates on a number of issues.
Brownback did not immediately comment on the legislative elections. But his press secretary, Eileen Hawley, issued a statement that read: "Governor Brownback congratulates all of the winners and looks forward to working with them to make Kansas the best place in America to raise a family and grow a business. He was pleased to see that many incumbents who support small government, pro-life, and pro-liberty policies were successfully re-elected.”
Meanwhile ... all of the candidates, Republicans and Democrats alike, who worked so hard to win their elections are going to learn Thursday just how difficult the job they signed up for is going to be.
Thursday is when the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group issues its new, official estimates of how much money the state will have to work with for the rest of this fiscal year, and looking ahead to the next two fiscal years.
With the state general fund already facing a shortfall of more than $80 million for the current year, it's a safe bet that the new projections can be summed up in one word: "less."
Finney County controversy
People who were following the Kansas elections on Twitter Tuesday night might have noticed considerable chatter about the Finney County Clerk's Office, which abruptly took down a web page that showed where all the polling places were in that county.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said that was a direct result of the scrutiny Finney County was under from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Finney County is in southwest Kansas, and its largest city, Garden City, is home to several meatpacking plants, which accounts for the area's high immigrant population. As a result, the Justice Department had announced before the election that Finney County would be among the 67 jurisdictions where it would be monitoring on the ground for violations of the federal Voting Rights Act.
One provision of that act, known as the "5 percent rule," says that election officials must provide ballots and other voting materials, including instructions, in multiple languages if 5 percent or more of the voting-age population speaks something other than English as their first language. Finney County is one of a handful of Kansas counties that falls into that category.
The problem with the web page, Kobach said, was that it was only in English.
"The Department of Justice was looking at anything the county produced that wasn't in both English and in Spanish," Kobach said. "The attorney representing the county, in an abundance of caution, said, well, since our website telling you where to vote is only in English right now, we'll have to take it down or the DOJ will jump all over us."
But Mark Johnson, an attorney who teaches election law at the University of Kansas, said he found it curious that the county didn't have Spanish language web pages from the beginning.
"Language minority rules have been in place for more than 30 years," he said. "Is this the first time they noticed the website didn’t include Spanish language information? It’s a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act. Taking it down was a tacit admission that it was noncompliant."
Judging the pollsters
Of all the people who won elections in Kansas Tuesday night, one of the biggest winners may turn out to be the Docking Institute for Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University. Just a few days before the election, that institute published a "flash poll" that turned out to be more accurate than anyone else's.
That poll had estimated that Republican Donald Trump was leading Democrat Hillary Clinton, 58-34 percent in Kansas, a margin of 22 points. The final, unofficial margin was 57-36 percent, a margin of 21 points.
The poll drew attention, and a fair amount of skepticism, because it was so different from other polls that had been done, including FHSU's own "Kansas Speaks" poll that had come out only two weeks earlier showing Trump with a much narrower lead, 47-39 percent.
But other polls had shown the race much closer as well, including a SurveyUSA poll conducted for KSN-TV in Wichita one week before the election, which showed Trump leading by just 11 points, 49-38 percent.
There were some significant differences in those polls. The Kansas Speaks poll was conducted over a six-week period, from Sept. 1 through Oct. 13, which covered a period in which many voters apparently had not made up their minds, or perhaps were not as committed as it might have seemed. The "flash" poll, conducted Nov. 1-3, represented a much more focused "snapshot" in time.
The SurveyUSA poll, meanwhile, was conducted Oct. 26-30. Thirty percent of the interviews were conducted before FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Congress saying he was reopening an investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server, while 70 percent were conducted after that announcement.
Kobach PAC violated rules with late last-minute reporting; Yoder denies he’s taking sides in judicial retention battle despite contribution; World Series superstition
The head of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission said Thursday that Secretary of State Kris Kobach's political action committee "Prairie Fire" violated Kansas campaign finance laws by failing to make a timely disclosure of last-minute independent expenditures it made in the days leading up to the Aug. 2 primary.
Executive Director Carol Williams also called it a "technical violation," however, and said it probably will not result in a fine or other penalty.
The Journal-World first reported Wednesday that Prairie Fire filed a campaign finance report in October, listing expenditures that were clearly made before the Aug. 2 primary and should have been disclosed in campaign reports filed at that time. The expenditures were made on behalf of four Republican legislative candidates, three of whom lost their primary races.
Kobach's political aide Moriah Day on Wednesday acknowledged that those expenditures should have been reported earlier, and he was unable to explain why they hadn't been.
On Thursday, though, Day was able to provide more detail. He said Prairie Fire had contracted for the last-minute mailers on July 28, five days before the primary. But he also acknowledged that it did not report those expenditures until Aug. 5, three days after the primary. Furthermore, he said, those disclosure reports were only filed with the secretary of state's office and were never forwarded to the Ethics Commission as required by law.
Campaigns typically engage in a flurry of activity in the final days of an election cycle, after the normal campaign finance reports have been filed. But Kansas law still requires those late expenditures to be disclosed in daily reports made after the initial filing deadline, and those last-minute expenditures are supposed to be reported by 5 p.m. the next day.
After the Journal-World began inquiring about the expenditures, Williams said, Prairie Fire's treasurer Merilee Martin hand-delivered copies of the reports to the Election Commission office. But Williams said the reports were not dated.
Williams said it is unclear within the statutes whether violation of that particular rule can result in a fine or penalty. She also said the commission typically gets involved only in cases of "willful" violations, and she said many committee treasurers are not aware that they must report activity as soon as the work is contracted, even if the actual bill isn't paid until several weeks later.
Yoder PAC donates to group campaigning to oust justices
Third District Congressman Kevin Yoder's campaign insisted Thursday that Yoder is not taking sides in the battle over retaining the five Kansas Supreme Court justices who are on the Nov. 8 ballot, despite the fact that his political action committee donated $2,500 in October to a group seeking to oust four of the justices.
Campaign finance reports filed this week with the secretary of state's office indicate that Yoder's federal PAC, "Yopac," made the donation Oct. 17 to Kansans for Life, an anti-abortion organization that is running a vote no campaign under the banner "Better Judges for Kansas."
Yopac is a federal political action committee registered with the Federal Election Commission. But under Kansas law, it may contribute to state campaigns as long as it discloses those expenditures and any contributions it receives that are over $300 from Kansas sources.
Yoder's campaign spokesman C.J. Grover said Thursday that Yoder supports the other activities of Kansans for Life and that Yoder himself is pro life. But he insisted Yoder was not taking sides in the judicial retention races in Kansas.
Conservative groups, including Better Judges for Kansas, have targeted four of the five Supreme Court justices on the ballot to be not retained. Better Judges for Kansas is also targeting four of the six Kansas Court of Appeals judges for nonretention over their ruling earlier this year that said the Kansas Constitution guarantees the same right to privacy, including the right to an abortion, as the U.S. Constitution.
Gov. Sam Brownback's political action committee, Road Map PAC, gave $25,000 to Kansans for Life in July. But Brownback has also said he is not taking sides in the judicial retention battle.
Kansans for Life executive director Mary Kay Culp said Thursday that those donations fund mailers that KFL sends out that promote the candidates that group has endorsed, for legislative races as well as for judicial retention races.
Kansans for Life's most recent campaign finance report] indicates the group has spent $64,126 during the general election cycle, primarily on mail advertising.
World Series superstition
People trying to read obscure tea leaves to predict the outcome of the 2016 presidential race should not read too much into the fact that a National League team won the World Series.
To be sure, the Chicago Cubs' victory over the Cleveland Indians Wednesday was historic. Their last World Series win was in October 1908, about one month before Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were gunned down in Bolivia.
But from 1952 through 1976, the World Series was an accurate predictor of presidential elections. Every presidential year when the National League won the World Series, a Democrat won the White House. And every year an American League team won, Republicans won the presidential race.
You can thank the Kansas City Royals for breaking that streak when they lost their first World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1980, the year Ronald Reagan was first elected. For a while after that, it was kind of a mixed bag.
in 1984, the Detroit Tigers put the trend back on track by beating the San Diego Padres as Reagan rolled to re-election. But in 1988, the Los Angeles Dodgers upset things again by beating the Oakland A's as George H.W. Bush won the White House. And Democrat Bill Clinton won both of his elections in years when the American League took the series: Toronto Blue Jays in 1992; and New York Yankees in 1996.
Since then, however, the World Series-Presidential race correlation has been back on track:
• 2000: New York Yankees (AL); George W. Bush (Rep.)
• 2004: Boston Red Sox (AL); George W. Bush (Rep.);
• 2008: Philadelphia Phillies (NL); Barack Obama (Dem.)
• 2012: San Francisco Giants (NL); Barack Obama (Dem.)
• 2016: Chicago Cubs (NL); Presidential race (?)
Kobach’s PAC made unsuccessful last-minute push in primary; Douglas County voter registration numbers; more on 2011 votes on voting laws
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's political action committee made some unsuccessful last-minute attempts to help Republican candidates in the Aug. 2 primary, but those expenses weren't disclosed until this week.
Kobach's PAC, Prairie Fire, has been a source of controversy since it was formed in 2012. His critics, both Republican and Democratic, have said they think it's improper for the state's chief election officer to be involved in trying to influence elections that he supervises. But Kobach has dismissed those criticisms, saying the secretary of state's office is inherently political and that it also calls on him to supervise elections in which he himself is a candidate.
According to a campaign finance report filed this week, Prairie Fire made independent expenditures on behalf of four GOP candidates in the primary, including three candidates who lost that primary. But the report lists those expenses as having occurred on Oct. 5, two months after the primary.
Those expenditures included:
• $1,931.40 for mailers on behalf of Nicholas Allbritton of Junction City, who lost his GOP primary for the open 68th District House seat to Dave Baker.
• $3,078.69 for mailers on behalf of Joe Patton of Topeka, who tried unsuccessfully to unseat incumbent Sen. Vicki Schmidt in the 20th District Senate race.
• $1,692.23 for mailers on behalf of Steve Pearson of Emporia, who lost a primary to Mark Schreiber in the open 60th District House race.
• And $49.86 for "Miscellaneous Robocalls" on behalf of Rep. Bill Sutton of Gardner, who successfully fended off a primary challenge from Donald Roberts in the 43rd District House race.
Moriah Day, an aide in Kobach's office, said the dates recorded on the report were incorrect and that the expenses were actually incurred in late July.
Candidates and political action committees were required to file pre-primary reports by July 25, reflecting activity that occurred between Jan. 1 and July 21. Day said he believed the expenditures were made after the July 25 filing deadline but was not immediately able to confirm that.
Douglas County registration numbers
Voter registration in Douglas County is up from where it was in the 2012 presidential race, but still lags behind the record level set in 2008, County Clerk Jamie Shew said Wednesday.
Shew said he certified the county's voter registration rolls Wednesday morning showing 81,380 registered voters in the county. Democrats make up the largest share of that total, with 37 percent, followed by unaffiliated voters at 34 percent and Republicans at 27 percent. There are 932 registered Libertarian voters in the county, which is a little more than 1 percent.
Registration totals tend to peak during presidential election years, Shew said, but they taper off immediately afterward when inactive voters are purged from the rolls. If a voter does not cast a ballot in two consecutive general elections, local election officers attempt to contact that person to verify they still live at the same address. If they can't confirm the person still lives at that address, the name is taken off the registration list.
This year's total is slightly higher than the 78,725 registration total the county recorded just before the last presidential race in 2012. But it is still below the record 83,175 set just before the 2008 election, the last time there was an open presidential race.
Shew said he expects voter turnout this year to reflect that same trend. He said he expects it to be less than the roughly 55,000 votes cast in 2008, but more than the 50,000 or so cast in 2012.
He said that while advance voting this year has been breaking records, most of the advance ballots have come from people who vote every election cycle, not from new voters.
In addition, he said, advance voting among university students has been down.
"In 2008, we had huge advance turnout among university students," he said. "We're not seeing that now."
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is scheduled to announce statewide registration numbers and expected voter turnout at a news conference Thursday.
More on votes on the 2011 voting laws bill
Tuesday's story about local lawmakers who voted in favor of a 2011 bill imposing strict new voting requirements prompted a few more politicians to come out of the woodwork offering their memories of that legislative fight, and they illustrate how complicated the machinations of Statehouse politics can get.
One of the central issues, a couple of sources have said, was the threat that if the House and Senate didn't pass the bill on the floor — which included a photo ID requirement and a delayed proof of citizenship requirement that wouldn't take effect for another two years — there was another bill waiting in the wings that critics of the bill thought would be worse.
For one thing, Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said that bill would not have included the two-year delay on the proof of citizenship rule. Because of the delay, that rule didn't come into play until the 2013 municipal elections in Kansas, and it didn't come fully into play until the 2014 elections.
Also in that alternative bill was a provision that would have given the secretary of state power to prosecute election crimes.
Lawmakers eventually did pass a bill in 2015 giving the secretary of state prosecutorial power, and since then Kobach has obtained four convictions against people who cast ballots in Kansas and other states in the same election. None of the prosecutions has involved non-U.S. citizens voting in Kansas elections.
In the Lawrence Journal-World's Voter Guide that was published Sunday, some readers may have noticed that all of the incumbent legislators expressed at least some level of opposition to the state's voting laws that require voters to show photo ID at the polls to vote and proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register.
What may not have been evident to readers, however, is that every member of the Lawrence-area delegation at that time voted in favor of the bill enacting those requirements.
When contacted Tuesday to explain those positions, some said the law has not worked out as it was explained; others said they liked part of the bill but not others; and some blamed Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who championed the bill, for poor implementation.
For background, those new voting requirements, considered among the strictest in the nation, were contained in House Bill 2067 during the 2011 legislative session. Kobach, who had just been elected secretary of state the previous November after campaigning on a promise to crack down on voting fraud and illegal immigration, made those new restrictions his top legislative priority as soon as he was sworn into office.
The provisions requiring photo ID were in effect for the general elections the following year, 2012. But the law requiring proof of citizenship did not take effect until Jan. 1, 2013. That meant that the 2014 elections were the first held in Kansas under that requirement, and by the time of the election, more than 27,000 would-be voters had their registrations placed "in suspense" for failing to show the required citizenship documents, and most were unable to vote in that race.
The bill was the subject of intense debate in the 2011 Legislature and several amendments were debated throughout the process. In the end, though, legislative records show the bill passed with little dissent: 36-3 in the Senate, and 111-11 in the House.
Democratic Sens. Marci Francisco, of Lawrence, and Tom Holland, of Baldwin City, both voted yes, as did Democratic Rep. Barbara Ballard and Republican Rep. Tom Sloan, of Lawrence.
In their responses to the Journal-World's questionnaire, however, all of them expressed at least some level of opposition to the laws:
Sen. Marci Francisco said in her questionnaire answer that the law has not worked out as lawmakers were told. "When the state voting laws were changed to add the requirements for proof of citizenship and photo identification, there was a promise that citizens would be able to easily and legally register to vote in both state and federal elections at the Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles. That system has never worked," she wrote.
Contacted Tuesday, Francisco elaborated: "We were told that this would be a seamless connection between somebody with a drivers license and record of citizenship," she said. "And that solved a lot of the problems, esp. for university students."
Sen. Tom Holland stated on his questionnaire: "I oppose the current laws as presently administered by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. I believe too many people are currently being disenfranchised from their voting rights."
"I like the concept of showing a photo ID," Holland said Tuesday, explaining his statement. "What I am not pleased with is the hoops you have to jump through to get one. That is my issue. The other thing is, I think the way Kobach is handling the voter rolls is making it harder for people to keep their voting privileges. For example, I was aware of a woman who got married and moved. It was difficult for her to get that straightened out again."
Rep. Tom Sloan stated emphatically on his questionnaire, "I voted against the requirement that persons registering to vote must show proof of U.S. citizenship." And in fact, he did vote no on an earlier version of the bill Feb. 25, although it passed the full House 83-36, sending it on to the Senate. But when the House voted again on the final version March 29, he voted yes.
Sloan said Tuesday that in the normal legislative process, bills get lumped together and lawmakers often vote in favor of bills that have some elements they oppose. But he said he was not able to remember the details of those votes from five years ago.
Rep. Barbara Ballard stated on her questionnaire: "I do not support the state's current laws requiring people to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to vote and to show photo ID at the polls in order to cast a ballot."
The Journal-World was unable to contact Ballard for comment Tuesday.
Gov. Sam Brownback officially named Richard Carlson to be the next permanent secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation and director of the Kansas Turnpike Authority, but some are already saying he could face opposition when he comes up for confirmation by the Kansas Senate.
Carlson has been serving as interim secretary since July following the resignation of former KDOT Secretary Mike King. But he is best known as a former Republican legislator from St. Marys who chaired the House Taxation Committee, where he was instrumental in pushing through Brownback's sweeping tax cut proposals in 2012 and 2013.
Brownback expressed confidence in his pick, saying Carlson "brings both experience and a deep understanding of Kansas and its citizens to this position. I appreciate his commitment to serving the state and know that he will be a strong and positive leader for KDOT."
But Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, said Carlson could face a tough confirmation process. "I would be reluctant to send his confirmation out of committee," he said.
"There can be a pretty strong case made against his confirmation from the standpoint that he was chairman of the tax committee when we passed the 2012 tax plan, which led to the $2 billion raiding of the highway fund to balance the budget," Hensley said. "You’re essentially putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop."
Carlson served 10 years in the Legislature, stepping down after the 2014 session. He then became legislative liaison for the Kansas Department of Revenue until he was named interim KDOT secretary.
His confirmation as KDOT secretary, however, could depend heavily on the outcome of the Nov. 8 elections in the Senate, which will have a number of leadership changes in 2017.
Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, currently chairs the Confirmation Oversight Committee, but he was defeated for re-election in the Aug. 2 GOP primaries. Also on that committee is Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, who chose not to run for re-election this year, and Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, who may be in a tough battle for re-election amid lawsuits against him stemming from a business bankruptcy.
Carlson's nomination would also be heard in the Senate Transportation Committee, but Hensley said it won't be known until after the next leadership elections who will be on that committee.
News outlets in Kansas are not reporting the good news about the Kansas economy, and if they did, voters might feel differently about the impact that Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax policies have had on the state.
That’s the message that Brownback himself has been delivering lately, in talks to various groups around the state, including a recent get-together with the Kansas Press Association board of directors.
So when word of that conversation got back to the news desk, the Lawrence Journal-World asked to meet with the governor and let him make his case. Brownback agreed, and in the course of a 25-minute interview, he laid out his case — complete with a wealth of charts and graphs — with data that he says prove the Kansas economy is in better shape than people give it credit for.
“It just never gets out,” Brownback said at the outset. “That’s what I was complaining about, because we’ve got some really good employment numbers and small business growth numbers in the state, and that just never gets out.”
Much of that, he said, is directly due to the tax cuts he championed in 2012 and 2013. And in the areas where the state’s economy seems to be lagging, Brownback blames global, macroeconomic forces, such as commodity prices in the farm and energy sectors that are beyond the state’s control.
Brownback has good reason to try to shore up his case at this point. His allies in the Legislature who helped push through the tax cuts — at least those who actually ran for re-election — suffered badly in the Aug. 2 primary, and many people say there's a good chance they could suffer more defeats in the Nov. 8 general election.
If 2016 turns out to be a "wave" election, in which the balance of power in the Legislature completely shifts, then Brownback could be in for a tough ride in the last two years of his administration. And although there's every reason to believe that most voters who are motivated on the tax issue have already made up their minds, Brownback has an incentive for trying to make his case while he still has time.
The purpose of the tax cuts, Brownback reminds people, was to spur business development and increase private sector jobs over the long term. And by putting more money in the pockets of individuals, the theory was, that would generate economic activity that would produce revenue for the state from other sources, such as retail sales taxes, to offset the loss of income taxes.
“What that was built upon is, if you get a kind of normal economic situation, that as you cut income taxes, you’ll gain it back in sales,” Brownback said. “That was the theory. That was the experience in some other areas.”
Here are some of the numbers that Brownback cites to make his case.
The border wars. One of the boldest claims Brownback makes is also the most difficult to verify independently. That is the claim that Kansas tax policy has reversed the outflow of economic wealth from the Kansas side of the Kansas City metropolitan area to the Missouri side.
“We were losing tax filers to Missouri for 19 years in a row,” Brownback said. “That’s us losing wealth to Missouri. Enact the tax policy, and boom. We were having out-migration from Kansas the last three years prior. We now have in-migration, and a lot of that’s Missourians moving to Kansas.”
According to one of his charts, based on Internal Revenue Service data, in the three years just before the tax cuts were enacted, Kansans moving across the state line into Missouri were taking with them $150-$200 million a year in adjusted gross income.
But immediately after the tax cuts, in 2013 and 2014, the trend reversed, and now Missourians are moving back, bringing with them about $85 million worth of income.
According to Census Bureau data, however, there was no out-migration of people in the metro area from Kansas to Missouri.
Looking at migration data from 2009 through 2013 for Johnson, Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties on the Kansas side, and Jackson, Clay and Platte counties in Missouri, Kansas was a net winner in migration, gaining 2,396 more people from Missouri than Missouri picked up from Kansas.
“We are not saying we were losing residents to Missouri prior to the tax cuts,” Brownback’s spokeswoman said in an email. “We were gaining residents but that rate tripled following the implementation of the tax policy.”
“We had been losing wealth (and) money to Missouri, but not people,” she continued, “and now we are gaining people from Missouri and seeing wealth transfer in to Kansas as well.”
Business creation. According to data from the Kansas Department of Revenue, Brownback said, roughly 18,000 new businesses filed tax returns in the first two years of the tax plan, either under business names or Social Security numbers that had never shown up in state tax records before.
"And you've got 650 of those in Douglas County," he said pointedly.
Jeannine Koranda, spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue, said that was based on internal analysis of individual tax returns, which are not available to the general public, and no more detailed information about that analysis was available.
But even accepting that the numbers are accurate, the creation of those new businesses has not translated into large numbers of new jobs.
Numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that since the tax cuts took effect in January 2013, Kansas has added, on a seasonally adjusted basis, only 34,400 new private sector jobs, a growth rate of just 3.1 percent over three and a half years. That’s less than half of the national average of 8 percent growth in private sector employment over that same period.
“We’re a little flat,” Brownback said.
Nor would Brownback say that the job growth Kansas has seen is directly related to his tax policies.
“We don’t have the hard data that I know of to say that because of our business policy, we have this growth in private sector jobs,” he said. “But I do know we’ve hit near record on private sector employment. We’ve got record numbers of new small businesses formed.”
Furthermore, Brownback acknowledged, some new business entities are merely extensions of existing businesses, especially among real estate developers who commonly set up separate entities, known as limited liability corporations, or LLCs, for each individual development project.
But Brownback said even that represents economic growth.
"I’ve talked with developers, and one developer in particular in Douglas County," he said. "They form a new LLC to put the new building in. He’s out of Wichita, but he says, ‘Look, I’m using this to build buildings — the tax benefit of being able to put this, the revenue generated off of it.’ And he says we’re doing this in Lawrence. And you’ve got a lot of building going on."
Individual income tax collections. The tax cuts that Brownback championed came in two phases. In 2012, lawmakers passed a bill that slashed individual income tax rates overall and completely exempted income derived from certain kinds of business entities. The following year, lawmakers attempted to fix some technical problems in the original bill, but also passed a formula, which some called the "glide path to zero," that was meant to phase out income taxes altogether over a period of time.
In the first full fiscal year of the tax cuts, 2014, individual income tax receipts in Kansas fell 24 percent, to 2.2 billion. They bounced back slightly by 2.7 percent in fiscal year 2015, to nearly $2.3 billion, but fell again in the most recent fiscal year.
In the fiscal year that just ended June 30, Kansas collected about $2.25 billion in individual income taxes, still 23 percent less than the $2.9 billion collected in fiscal year 2013, before the full impact of the tax cuts took effect.
According to the Legislature's nonpartisan Research Department, the full impact of the tax cuts is that Kansas is now collecting about $920 million less each year than it would have if lawmakers had made no changes to the tax code.
But so far in the new fiscal year, Brownback said, individual income tax receipts have started to recover. In the first quarter of the new fiscal year, receipts have grown by $25 million, or nearly 5 percent over the same period last year, and they've actually beaten the official estimates by nearly $1.7 million.
"My point is, when people criticize the tax policy, the places where we’re not getting the yield are corporate taxes, which we didn’t do anything to; sales taxes, which we actually raised; and personal income. That’s the one where we’re actually ahead of last year, and we’re ahead of the estimate. That’s the one we cut."
But if income tax receipts are rising, it does not appear that the personal income of Kansans overall is changing very much. According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, growth in per-capita personal income in Kansas has not kept pace with the rest of the nation.
Sales tax receipts. One of the most disappointing revenue figures that have been reported since the tax cuts were enacted is the lackluster growth in retail sales. That was, after all, a built-in assumption about cutting income taxes — that it would put more money in people’s pockets and spur consumer spending.
In fiscal year 2014, the first full year after the tax cuts, retail sales tax collections actually declined 3.7 percent, to $$2.1 billion. That was also the year that the sales tax rate dropped slightly, the result of a previous tax plan enacted by former Gov. Mark Parkinson in 2010 that included a “temporary” increase in the wake of the Great Recession.
Since 2014, sales tax have grown slightly, but not nearly at the pace that budget analysts had expected. In the most recent fiscal year, sales taxes grew 6.2 percent over the previous year. Of that, however, 5.7 percent can be attributed to the 2015 Legislature raising the sales tax rate, leaving only half a percent attributable to increased consumer spending.
The rural economy. Brownback says that has begun to turn around in the new fiscal year, with sales tax receipts in the first quarter beating the same period last year, and exceeding current estimates. But he acknowledges that hasn’t been even throughout the state.
“The urban areas are working. The rural areas are not,” he said. “If you add up all the rurals, it does actually matter.”
The rural economy, Brownback said, has been beset by global economic factors that state government is unable to control.
“We cannot overcome a huge falloff in oil prices, or a huge falloff in cattle prices and wheat. … You go west of Salina, it’s basically the pits. You go into the oil areas and gas areas, really bad. And your ag area is not very good, but the urban, where you’ve got a more normal situation.
“We’re flowing against a bad commodity market for us that normally hammers Kansas pretty hard,” Brownback said. “Because once you drop in ag prices, they don’t buy farm equipment; then our farm equipment manufacturers cut back employment. Once you’re not drilling for oil, you don’t have those employment jobs.”
“The urban areas are working. The rural are not,” he said. “If you add up all the rurals, it does actually matter.”
But the Kansas economy has always been moved by global economic forces that are beyond state government’s ability to control. And some have suggested it was folly from the beginning to think that those forces could be overcome with changes in the state of Kansas income tax code.
“I disagree with that,” Brownback said. “I agree we can’t impact the price of oil or the price of cattle. That’s a global commodity market. But I do think you can impact people moving. I think you can impact the growth of business, or decline over time. And we’ve got the data to show that’s indeed the case.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released polling results Tuesday showing Democrat Hillary Clinton leading Republican Donald Trump by double digits in the 3rd Congressional District of Kansas, and that Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder is locked in a surprisingly close race with Democrat Jay Sidie.
The poll was conducted Oct. 5-8, so most of the responses were recorded before release of a recording of Trump making lewd comments about women during a 2005 interview. The telephone survey of 456 likely voters was conducted for the DCCC and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.
It showed Clinton leading Trump, 52-42 percent, and Yoder leading by only 5 percentage points, 50-45 percent, over Sidie.
It also showed that Gov. Sam Brownback's low approval rating may be dragging down GOP candidates further down the ballot. Within the 3rd District, which includes Johnson, Wyandotte and a small portion of Miami counties, the poll showed Brownback with only a 19 percent approval rating in the district.
Kansas political experts said the idea that Clinton is leading in the 3rd District fits a pattern that has been seen elsewhere in the country where highly educated, upper-income suburban white voters — the dominant demographic in Johnson County — have largely rejected Trump and are gravitating to Clinton.
"Clinton is outperforming normal Democratic numbers among high education and high income white voters, and has been winning them in many national polls," said University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller. "That never happens for a Democrat, so that alone is a shocking development this year. But Trump is outperforming typical Republican numbers with lower education and lower income whites — the 'white working class.'"
Normally, he said, such trends would cancel each other out. But within certain congressional districts, even those that went Republican in the last two election cycles like the Kansas 3rd, Miller said Clinton has been pulling ahead.
Emporia State University political scientist Michael Smith agreed with that assessment.
"Intuitively, I do agree that the 3rd District is not Trump country," he said. "Johnson County doesn’t feature the working-class, white population that is associated with Trump’s base, except perhaps in pockets. Wyandotte County is Democratic but suffers from low voter turnout. Northern Miami County might actually be a bit more Trump-ish."
The poll offered a couple of different looks at the 3rd District congressional race. On one hand, when respondents were asked a generic partisan question, where the candidates' names are not mentioned, it showed a Democrat beating a Republican, 49-44 percent.
But when the candidates' names are mentioned, it showed Yoder up by 5 points in a two-way trial heat, and by 4 points in a three-way match-up that includes Libertarian candidate Steve Hohe.
“To put it bluntly: Congressman Yoder is not well liked by his constituents and a solid majority of voters believe that he will put his political party and special interests ahead of Kansans,” DCCC spokesman Tyler Law said in a statement. “Yoder’s shameful embrace of Donald Trump and Governor Brownback has made his already shaky case for re-election even less credible. There’s no doubt that this is going to be a close race.”
Republicans, however, did not appear nervous about the poll.
"We've heard this tale before," said Yoder's campaign spokesman, C.J. Grover.
In 2014, Grover noted, when Brownback and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts were seen as on the ropes, political handicapper Larry Sabato downgraded both the 3rd District and Rep. Lynn Jenkins' 2nd District to "likely Republican," arguing there was a chance that anti-incumbent fever could trickle down to the congressional races.
Both Yoder and Jenkins won those races by margins of about 20 percentage points.
Also, the poll was released the same day that the Yoder campaign began airing a negative TV ad against Sidie, a financial adviser who, according to state records, has never been registered with the Kansas securities commissioner.
Officials in the office of Securities Commissioner Josh Ney confirmed that neither Sidie nor his firm, Counterpunch Financial, is registered in Kansas, which is required for most individuals and companies that offer financial advice to the general public.
But Sidie reportedly is citing an exemption to that requirement, which says registration is not required if the individual or firm has fewer than 15 clients and does not "not hold itself out generally to the public as an investment adviser."
When you’re enclosed in the Statehouse on a full-time basis, it’s easy to get consumed by it all, and it’s often hard to see a world beyond the partisanship, the budget shortfalls and whatever else that may constitute the Scandal of the Day.
So in fairness, Gov. Sam Brownback may have done the Statehouse press corps a service Friday morning by opening and closing a press conference by redirecting reporters’ attention to a few things going on outside the building that many people might find positive and interesting.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of questions about the current budget situation, the prospect of a costly Supreme Court order on school finance, or the true condition of Kansas highways.
But this reporter is willing to admit it was kind of refreshing to hear that despite all of its budget woes, the people of Kansas – with or without state government’s help - are still capable of doing some pretty cool things, like developing a 117-mile Flint Hills Trail, which will eventually stretch between Herrington and Osawatomie.
“It’s been worked on for a number of years by different volunteer groups, different segments of it, but we’re getting it built up to a high-quality hiking, biking, horseback riding trail,” Brownback said, reporting that he’d just visited one segment of the trail. “This is a nice trail. I believe when we’re done with this, it will compete with, and be better than, the Katy Trail in Missouri.”
He also mentioned that as of now, nearly 24 percent of all the electricity generated in Kansas is coming from renewable sources, mostly wind but also including some solar, which is far more than the original Renewable Portfolio Standard goal of 20 percent by 2020. And on particularly bright, windy days like the ones we’ve had lately, the number can run as high as 30 percent.
Brownback also tried to highlight the condition of Kansas highways, which is a subject of much dispute around the Statehouse. He pointed to a recent report that ranked Kansas third in the nation for the overall quality of its highway system.
But reporters quickly bristled at that, as most did when the report came out in September, because it was based on 2013 data, and the study was conducted by the Reason Foundation, a self-described libertarian think tank that is funded in part by various Koch family foundations. And what the report actually said wasn’t that Kansas had the third “best” highways, but rather third most “cost effective,” which is still a nice thing, but not the same thing.
Questions, however, quickly turned to other matters, such as whether he will propose a 5-percent budget cut next year and, if so, where the axe will fall.
Brownback’s budget office had earlier instructed agencies to include in their budget proposals contingency plans for a 5-percent cut in the upcoming fiscal year. Then he instructed them not to release those documents to the media. Later, his budget director Shawn Sullivan announced that the governor would not propose any “across-the-board” budget cuts next year, leaving open the possibility that there could be deep, but targeted cuts throughout state government.
Most governors, however, are loathe to divulge their budget plans before they deliver it to the Legislature, and Brownback is no exception. He quickly brushed off nearly all budget-related questions, including one about whether higher education should prepare to take another big hit.
“I’m not going to say,” he said. “I want to look and see what the situation is, and ultimately it’s up to the Legislature. They’re the appropriators.”
He then detoured into familiar territory, giving his description of the Kansas economy, which he maintains is the root cause of the state’s revenue problems, not the tax cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013.
“There are kind of three geographic regions of the Kansas economy,” he said. “Kansas City is doing great and producing a lot of revenue for the state. The Wichita-Topeka axis in this area is doing okay. Not doing what Kansas City is, but it’s okay. Then you’ve got that third, basically, Kansas economy that’s more rural and has really been struggling.”
He compared the current rural economy to the farm crisis of the 1980s, when land values collapsed, many farms went bankrupt and roughly 100 banks in Kansas went under.
He said he attended a recent agricultural law conference, “and people there said we’re starting to see things line up of a similar difficulty. Not the same. It won’t be the same. The agriculture industry structure is different. The oil industry structure is different. But they’re saying, you’ve now had multiple years of very low commodity prices. People can hold on for several years, but then after that, there’s not anything left, and that’s the piece that’s really been a struggle.”
And that, he suggested, is why the consensus revenue estimates have been so far off the last couple of years. And he said a task force he appointed will issue a report Tuesday on suggested changes in the way budget officials should forecast future revenues.
Brownback was a little more forthcoming on the subject of K-12 education funding. He said there has been a lot of response to his public call for suggestions and comment about what a new funding formula should look like, but so far nothing very specific.
One idea that, surprisingly, has had some quiet but serious discussion in the Statehouse would be not to write a school funding formula at all, but instead to turn the entire K-12 budget over to the Kansas State Department of Education and let them figure out how to divvy it up. That department, the argument goes, has a large and professionally trained staff that, unlike the Legislature, works on education issues year-around. Also, it could mean that the department, not the Legislature, would be the one to get sued the next time there's a complaint about funding equity.
“I’ve heard that. It’s similar to what we do with the Regents. We’ll see what people want to do,” he said.
Like everyone else, Brownback said he’s waiting to see how the Kansas Supreme Court rules in the pending school finance lawsuit. But one thing he did appear to take off the table was the Kansas State Board of Education’s suggestion, included in its budget request, that to achieve the educational outcomes that both the court and the Legislature have said are necessary will take an additional $900 million over the next two years.
“Nine hundred million. Wow, that would be a big tax increase somewhere. I don’t know where you would come up with $900 million additional funding from the current, existing structure,” he said.
All three recognized political parties in Kansas have named their slate of people who will cast the state's six electoral votes in the event their presidential candidate wins Kansas in November.
During presidential elections, a lot is written about electoral votes. And with the miracle of modern computer graphics, newspapers and TV stations love to show maps of the United States shaded as either "red" or "blue."
But it's sometimes easy to forget that the "Electoral College," as it's referred to in the Constitution, is actually composed of real people. And once the final canvass of votes is complete, those people gather, usually in their respective state capitols, and mark paper ballots reflecting the state's electoral votes. Those are then sent to the United States Senate where they are opened and counted. And that's the point when the presidential election is officially decided, although in reality, we all know the results long before that happens.
Being chosen for the Electoral College is largely an honorary thing that usually goes to high-ranking party officials. Of course, parties have to be careful about whom they choose because there is no law that says electors must vote in accordance with the popular vote in their state. But they always do, and state party organizations try to make sure of that.
So, for those who hunger for an utterly arcane piece of Kansas political trivia, here's the list of each party's designated presidential electors for this year:
Kansas Republican Party:
• Ashley J. McMillan, Concordia, party vice chair.
• Helen Van Etten, Topeka, national committeewoman.
• Mark Kahrs, Wichita, national committeeman.
• Ron Estes, Wichita, Kansas State Treasurer.
• Clayton L. Barker, Leawood, party executive director.
• Kelly Arnold, Wichita, party chairman.
Kansas Democratic Party:
• Oletha Faust-Goudeau, Wichita, state senator.
• Jean Schodorf, Sedan, party secretary.
• Teresa Krusor, Winfield, national committeewoman.
• Rehan Reza, Topeka, 2nd District vice chair.
• Tom Sawyer, Wichita, state representative.
• Christopher Reeves, Scott City, national committeeman.
Libertarian Party of Kansas:
• Rob Hodgkinson, Stilwell, party chairman.
• Sharon DuBois, Topeka, party vice chair.
• Stacey Davis, Auburn, party volunteer.
• Joey Frazier, Salina, 1st District coordinator.
• Michael Kerner, Lenexa, 3rd District deputy coordinator.
• Robert D. Garrard, Edgerton, candidate, U.S. Senate.
A new analysis of the state's financial condition shows that if revenues hit the mark for the rest of this fiscal year, it will end the fiscal year on June 30 with only $5.6 million in its general fund.
But as anyone who has watched the monthly revenue reports knows, Kansas has only met the revenue estimates once in the last year, and many are expecting the estimates to be revised downward when the state's Consensus Revenue Estimating Group meets again in November.
The latest report, known as a "budget profile," was released this week from the Legislature's nonpartisan Research Department. It shows the state is expected to have almost $6.363 billion available to spend this year and a budget calling for $6.357 billion in spending.
That means that if revenues miss the mark again in September and October, the state will be confronting a budget deficit in its general fund, which is not allowed under Kansas law or the state Constitution. And if that were to happen, Gov. Sam Brownback would be under pressure to use his "allotment" authority to order even more spending cuts before the next Legislature convenes, and possibly before the November elections.
But Brownback's press secretary, Eileen Hawley, said there are no such plans in the works.
“The Governor will present his budget proposal to the Legislature when it returns in January,” Hawley said in an email Thursday.
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, however, said that would present a difficult situation for the next Legislature, which is expected to have a large number of new members.
"It's very serious. It's a very dire situation, and it's going to take legislators who are willing to make tough choices if the governor isn't willing to lead," Hensley said.
The Kansas Department of Revenue is expected to announce September tax collections on Monday, Oct. 3. The Consensus Revenue Estimating Group is scheduled to publish its new, updated revenue forecasts on Thursday, Nov. 10, two days after the general election.
The website Morning Consult published results of a new 50-state poll on Tuesday, once again ranking the nation's governors according to their approval rating.
And yes, once again, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback came out as the least popular governor in America. But that's happened so many times in recent months, it's hardly news anymore. But there's another interesting factoid in the polling results that, when you see it, really makes you wonder how that could happen and what it really means.
Remember that in these kinds of polls, respondents are typically given three options: they can either approve of the governor's performance; disapprove of the governor's performance; or — and this is the interesting one — they either don't know or have no opinion about the governor's performance.
If you go to the web page where the poll results are published, you can sort the results based on any of those three categories. And if you click on the "don't know/no opinion' category, you find that Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has the highest, for lack of a better word, "indifference" rating of any governor in the United States.
Nearly one in four registered voters (24 percent) in Wyoming who were surveyed said they really didn't have much of an opinion one way or the other about Mead.
Overall, Mead ranked right in the middle of the pack in terms of popularity, with 52 percent approving of his performance (tied with New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan), but only 23 percent disapproving (tied with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott).
Mind you, Mead has been governor in Wyoming for the same length of time as Brownback. Both were elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Mead is also a grandson of another former Wyoming governor and U.S. Senator, Clifford Hanson, so it's not like he's a stranger in political circles.
Mead, who is also a Republican, won his first race with 66 percent of the vote and with 59 percent in his re-election bid.
Wyoming has, in fact, had some of the same kinds of budget shortfalls that have beset the Brownback administration in Kansas. State government in Wyoming operates on a two-year budget of about $3 billion, and this year state revenues could fall $240 to $510 million short of projections, according to a press release from Mead's office.
But unlike Kansas, Wyoming is heavily dependent on revenues from the energy sector, and its problems are more related to downturns in the oil, gas and coal industries. And while Wyoming does have a huge "rainy day" fund for just such emergencies, Mead has nonetheless asked for some huge budget cuts that would be highly controversial in other states.
There are some who argue that's a sign of success. After serving six years as Wyoming's chief executive, apparently he hasn't messed anything up so badly that it has caused huge numbers of people to dislike him. Sometimes in government, "not messing up" can be an ambitious goal.
Another theory is that the nature of Wyoming itself keeps state government out of the news. Wyoming covers more square miles than Kansas but has roughly the population of Johnson County. The people are so spread out, one colleague who used to work there said, there's just a lot more passion and interest in local politics than in state government.
But Mead's press secretary David Bush probably had the most plausible theory: It was a small-sample poll among only 127 respondents in Wyoming, leaving a margin of error of plus or minus 9 percentage points. Other recent polls with larger sample sizes have shown Mead's approval rating much higher, he said.
"That being said, Governor Mead is grateful for the support he receives from the people of Wyoming and continues to work hard on their behalf," Bush said.
Meanwhile, in case you're wondering, Gov. Brownback ranked 44th on the indifference scale. Only 6 percent of those polled in Kansas said they had no opinion about him.
Lowest on that scale was Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, where all but 3 percent of those polled have at least formed an opinion of him.
Note: This story has been updated from an earlier version to include comments from Gov. Mead's spokesman.
Some people may have noticed that the use of firearms in political campaign ads has been on the rise the last few election cycles.
In 2010, a Senate candidate in West Virginia ran an ad in which he shot a hole through a climate change bill, making a metaphorical point about his opposition to environmental regulations and a literal point abut his support for Second Amendment gun rights.
And this year, Missouri gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens fires off an actual machine gun on camera to show that when he fights back, against things like Obamacare, he "brings out the big guns."
To date, it's safe to say, nearly all such ads have been run by conservative Republicans. But this year, state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, has rolled out a new digital ad in which he fires off a shotgun, not once but three times, to demonstrate how he "takes aim" at Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's policies.
There are a couple of interesting aspects to the ad, starting with the fact that it's currently being distributed only through social media, via his Facebook and Twitter accounts — another growing trend in campaign advertising. Holland said it may air on cable networks in the district later in the cycle.
Second, it would appear in the ad that Holland actually hits three clay pigeons in a row in the span of about 30 seconds. There are no jump cuts or visible signs of editing or digital enhancement.
"I really hit all three birds in one take, no digital enhancements really," Holland said in an email when asked to verify that fact. "There were a few takes, however."
Finally, though, the ad makes no mention of his opponent, or even the fact that he has one. Her name, by the way, is Echo Van Meteren of Linwood. She hasn't yet joined the ad wars, although it's a virtual certainty that she will, since she's married to a principal in one of the leading GOP consulting and PR firms in Kansas, Singularis Group.
Instead, Holland's ad tries to convey the message that the election is all about Brownback, which has been a consistent message among most Democratic candidates in Kansas this year.
But Holland could be wandering into treacherous waters with a gun ad since another significant issue this year, especially in college communities like Lawrence, is the state's new concealed carry gun law, and the mandate that public colleges and universities allow concealed carry on campus beginning July 1 next year.
Given that, it may be unlikely we'll see too many more ads from Democrats in Kansas this year touting their marksmanship skills in campaign ads.
Two recent 50-state polls show Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump with a big lead in Kansas but Democrat Hillary Clinton with a significant lead in electoral votes nationwide.
But Trump’s numbers in Kansas are far below what previous GOP candidates have received here, while Clinton’s numbers are about average for a Democrat in the Sunflower State.
The Washington Post poll said if the election were held today in Kansas, Trump would beat Clinton 49-37 percent, with 14 percent undecided.
But Clinton showed up well ahead of Trump in the battle for electoral votes, 244-126, with 168 electoral votes hanging in tossup states. It takes 270 electoral votes to win.
In the last five presidential elections, Republican candidates have averaged 58 percent of the vote in Kansas while Democrats have averaged 38 percent.
The Post poll was an online survey of 74,886 registered voters in the United States, including 741 registered voters in Kansas. Responses were gathered using the SurveyMonkey polling platform, and responses were weighted to match the demographics of each state. It did not report a margin of error because that is a statistical property that only applies to random sample surveys.
The Post survey also showed widespread dissatisfaction among Kansans for both major candidates, with a vast majority saying they believe the nation’s well-being will be worse in the future no matter which candidate wins. Sixty-six percent said that about a potential Clinton presidency; 57 percent said that about a Trump presidency.
The Morning Consult poll showed much the same pattern, although it estimated that Clinton would get 321 electoral votes if the election were held today, more than enough electoral votes to win the race.
In Kansas, though, it showed Trump has widened his lead since Morning Consult conducted a similar poll in July. Then, Trump led Clinton by 11 points, 46-35 percent. The July poll showed that lead has grown to 18 points, 49-31 percent.
Nationally, the Morning Consult poll showed Clinton’s lead widening in the Electoral College, mainly due to Trump’s support slipping in states like Arizona, which is now considered a tossup, and Ohio, which has shifted from tossup into the Clinton column.
Both polls show that adding third-party candidates into the polling mix changes the numbers somewhat, but doesn’t really affect the trends overall.
The Morning Consult poll included responses from about 18,000 voters nationally. It then used statistical modeling to calculate state-level results from the national data.
In Kansas, both Trump’s and Clinton’s numbers fall 6 or 7 percentage points when the names of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are added to the polling question. In that four-way matchup, Johnson shows up at 17 percent while Stein gets about 4 percent. But political experts note that third-party candidates always show up better in pre-election polls than they do when actual votes are counted on Election Day.
Both Johnson and Stein were their respective party nominees in 2012. Johnson ended up with only 1.7 percent of the vote, and Stein barely registered a blip on the radar screen, getting only 714 ballots total.
Kansas does not officially recognize the Green Party, so Stein’s name will appear on the Kansas ballot as an independent.
TOPEKA — As school officials, lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration open discussions about writing a new school finance formula, expect to hear a lot of discussion about “putting money in the classroom.”
This has been a long-running debate whenever people talk about how much Kansas does or doesn’t spend on schools, and how much additional money is or isn’t needed to keep up with rising costs.
Conservative groups in particular like to emphasize “classroom” spending, also referred to as “instructional” spending to distinguish it from things like the high salaries of administrators, or bond and interest costs to pay for football stadiums and basketball arenas.
The subject came up almost immediately Wednesday when Brownback held a news conference with Education Commissioner Randy Watson and Kansas State Board of Education Chairman Jim McNiece.
First, there was Brownback reading some prepared opening remarks that touched on some broad, unifying themes about focusing on the needs of individual students and the challenge of preparing them for success, “in an increasingly competitive world.”
But then he added: “A new funding system must increase the percentage of state funding that gets to the classroom.”
A few minutes later, McNiece talked about the state board’s new “vision” for Kansas schools, which puts a lot more emphasis on the needs of individual students. More specifically, it suggests a larger role in the future for guidance counselors, social workers and other kinds of professionals to help students and their parents chart their own educational path, geared toward their own unique needs, interests and college or career plans.
What might have escaped most observers’ notice is that those two sets of ambitions are almost diametrically opposed to one another. That’s because, under standard definitions used in both state and federal education agencies, guidance counselors, social workers and a whole host of other services that schools provide to students don’t count as “instructional” programming.
Instructional services under those definitions include only the cost of teachers, teachers’ aides, clerks and graders, and equipment that assists in the instructional process.
Counselors and social workers, however, are in a whole other category of “student support services.” Also in that category are school nurses and other health aides, speech pathologists, audiologists and substance abuse counselors.
School library and media services are in yet another category of “instructional support services.”
That’s why, when looking at budget summaries for the Lawrence school district, for example, the official tables show only 57 percent of all the money the district spent from its general fund and local option budget last year went for “instruction,” while Kansas statutes express a policy “goal” that at least 65 percent of the money go toward instruction.
McNiece bristled when asked during the news conference how the board plans to sell its new "Kansas Can" vision to the Legislature during discussions about a new finance formula.
“You’re talking to a former high school principal who lived this every day,” McNiece said. “I would tell people this for years, and not to be argumentative, but everything goes to the classroom. Everything touches the classroom. We don’t do anything in the schools that doesn’t touch the classroom.”
McNiece said he personally would like to rewrite the definition of instructional spending to include more kinds of services. It’s something that the Kansas Association of School Boards and other organizations have suggested as well.
That’s not likely to happen anytime soon, however, because those definitions were developed by the U.S. Department of Education, and they are used by everybody, from the Census Bureau down to local units of government, as a standard way of measuring and comparing education cost figures nationwide.
That means they will also be used in political debates by groups fighting over how much money to spend on education, and where to spend it. And the public will just need to know what the words actually mean when they're used in those debates.
Former Rep. Paul Davis has been showing up a lot at political events throughout Kansas this summer.
Just in recent weeks, he has spoken at events in Wichita and in southwest Kansas. He was with the Kansas delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last month. And he has more events planned in the coming weeks in southeast Kansas.
His name and face also show up frequently in Democratic Party fundraising emails, all of which have led many people to wonder if he isn't lining up another bid for governor in 2018.
In fact, some party insiders have said privately that they have no doubt Davis is at least eying the 2018 race.
Wednesday night, Davis was stumping in Lawrence where a dozen or so people showed up to meet, and write checks for, 2nd District congressional candidate Britani Potter, who is challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins.
During a brief interview there, Davis would only say he's not thinking about the 2018 gubernatorial race, at least not yet.
"We'll think about the future at another point in time," he said. "But I'm still very concerned about the direction the state's going, and I think we have an opportunity to restore some much-needed common sense to the Legislature. That's why I've been as active as I have, trying to help candidates out there. I'm not doing it for my own reasons. I'm doing it because I think it's the best way we can bring about change in this state."
It has been nearly two years since Davis, the former Kansas House Minority Leader, lost the gubernatorial race to incumbent Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
It was a loss that still stings for many Democrats. With Brownback's disapproval rating hovering above 50 percent at the time, polls showed Davis ahead throughout most of the race, until the final weeks when Brownback's campaign launched a barrage of negative TV ads against Davis.
Some have also suggested that Brownback was helped by a flood of money from national Republican groups who helped save U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts' struggling re-election campaign that same year.
Davis said he’s had a lot of time to think about what happened in 2014.
“You learn a lot when you run an unsuccessful campaign,” he said. “When you are successful in a campaign, you think you did everything right, and you probably did a number of things wrong. When you are not successful, you tend to take some more time to analyze what all happened.”
“We certainly were swimming upstream in a tough political year across the country, in particular in a red state like Kansas,” he said.
But Democrats also lost five more seats in the Kansas House in 2014, leaving them with only 27. And after losing every statewide and congressional race in each of the last three election cycles, they don't have a deep bench from which to find another viable candidate for governor.
Republicans, however, have a wealth of political talent on their bench. So far, most of the speculation has focused on Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Attorney General Derek Schmidt, both of whom have been elected to statewide offices twice.
And there continues to be talk about U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, the 2nd District congresswoman whom Potter would like to beat this year. But it's considered a long-shot race at best. Meanwhile, Jenkins recently set up her own state-based political action committee to help fellow Republicans win state legislative races.
Davis acknowledged that the Kansas Democratic Party has a lot of work to do if it hopes to rebuild its own strength in the Legislature, which is often the place where candidates for higher office are groomed.
Specifically, he said Democrats have good chances in some southeast Kansas districts, an area of the state where Democrats once were quite strong. And he said southwest Kansas, with its rapidly growing Latino population, could become competitive in the near future.
“You have a number of legislative districts there that are majority-minority districts,” he said, referring to districts where a majority of the voting-age population are non-white, and therefore statistically more likely than not to vote Democratic. “People just need to be engaged by people who are running for office and engaged by political parties.”