Tag Archives: Kathleen Sebelius

Inspector General evaluates Obamacare website

The HHS Inspector General has released an evaluation of the Obamacare website HealthCare.gov, shedding light on the performance of former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services has released a report titled HealthCare.gov: Case Study of CMS Management of the Federal Marketplace. An excerpt from the executive summary holds the main points:

What We Found

The development of HealthCare.gov faced a high risk of failure, given the technical complexity required, the fixed deadline, and a high degree of uncertainty about mission, scope, and funding. Still, we found that HHS and CMS made many missteps throughout development and implementation that led to the poor launch. Most critical was the absence of clear leadership, which caused delays in decisionmaking, lack of clarity in project tasks, and the inability of CMS to recognize the magnitude of problems as the project deteriorated. Additional HHS and CMS missteps included devoting too much time to developing policy, which left too little time for developing the website; making poor technical decisions; and failing to properly manage its key website development contract. CMS’s organizational structure and culture also hampered progress, including poor coordination between policy and technical work, resistance to communicating and heeding warnings of “bad news,” and reluctance to alter plans in the face of problems. CMS continued on a failing path to developing HealthCare.gov despite signs of trouble, making rushed corrections shortly before the launch that proved insufficient. These structural, cultural, and tactical deficiencies were particularly problematic for HealthCare.gov given the significant challenges of implementing a new program involving multiple stakeholders and a large technology build.

The problems are not solved. Challenges remain, the report says, including “contract oversight, the accuracy of payments and eligibility determinations, and information security controls.”

Who is responsible for the debacle? In a hearing before Congress, HHS Secretary and former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius said “hold me accountable.” View a video clip below, or click here to view at C-SPAN.

The Kansas revenue problem in perspective

If we take the budgetary advice of a former Kansas state budget official, we need to be ready to accept the economic stagnation that accompanied his boss’s tenure.

Writing in his blog, former Kansas budget director Duane Goossen offers his advice for fixing the Kansas budget: “The state has a revenue problem that will not fix itself. Lawmakers have to face up to the fact that they must make revenue match expenditures. Unaffordable income tax cuts caused the problem. That’s the place to look for a correction.” (Lawmakers Make It Clear: Kansas Has A Revenue Problem)

Goossen has one thing correct: revenue and expenditures must be equal, over any long period of time. The preference for Goossen, as we see, is to raise revenue to support more spending. We can’t afford tax cuts, he writes.

But this is a backwards way of looking at the relationship between government and its subjects. When someone says we can’t afford tax cuts, that presumes a few things. First, it presumes that the previous level of taxation was better than the current level.

Second, it presumes that tax cuts have a cost that can’t be afforded. The only way this is true is if we believe that the state has first claim on our incomes. The state takes what it believes it needs, and we get to keep the rest. Then if, somehow, the government is persuaded to give any of that claim back to us, this “gift” has to be paid for.

But for those who believe in self-ownership, this is nonsense. It’s the people who “give” tax money to the government, not the government who “gives” it back in the form of tax cuts. If the government cuts taxes, the government gives us nothing. It simply takes less of what is ours in the first place.

Growth of jobs in Kansas and nearby states. Click for larger version.
Growth of jobs in Kansas and nearby states. Click for larger version.
But the attitude of many government officials is the opposite. In 2006 Kansas cut taxes on business equipment and machinery. At the time, the Wichita Eagle reported: “Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, who first proposed the business machinery tax cut, agreed. ‘We’re not giving away money for the sake of giving it away,’ she said. ‘I’m hoping that the economic growth will actually help fund the school plan that we just passed.'” (emphasis added) (Lawmakers hope for growth)

Growth of gross domestic product in Kansas and nearby states. Click for larger version.
Growth of gross domestic product in Kansas and nearby states. Click for larger version.
For the former governor of Kansas, letting business firms keep a little more of the money they earn means the state is “giving it away.” By the way, Duane Goossen — who now believes the only solution for the Kansas budget is to raise taxes — was the state’s budget director when Sebelius said the state is going to “give away money” in the form of tax cuts.

If take Goossen’s advice and return to the tax rates of the Sebelius and Graves eras, let’s make sure we understand the economic growth Kansas experienced during those years. Nearby is a snapshot of Kansas job growth starting when Bill Graves became governor, along with growth in some nearby states. A chart of GDP growth starts in 1997, two years into the Graves administration. We don’t want to return to these levels of growth.

If you’d like to use the interactive visualizations of this employment and GDP data, click here for employment, and click here for GDP.

As lawmakers, Kansas judges should be selected democratically

Kansas Judicial Center in snowWhile many believe that judges should not “legislate from the bench,” that is, make law themselves, the reality is that lawmaking is a judicial function. In a democracy, lawmakers should be elected under the principle of “one person, one vote.” But Kansas, which uses the Missouri Plan for judicial selection to its highest court, violates this principle.

A 2012 paper by Kansas University School of Law Professor Stephen J. Ware explains the problem with the judicial selection process in Kansas. The paper is titled Originalism, Balanced Legal Realism and Judicial Selection: A Case Study and may be downloaded at no charge. The Kansas court that uses the method of judicial selection described in the paper — the Missouri Plan — is the Kansas Supreme Court. (Prior to July 1, 2103, the Kansas Court of Appeals also used the Missouri Plan for judicial selection.)

At issue is whether judges are simply arbitrators of the law, or do they actually participate in the lawmaking process. Ware explains: “This realist view that statutory interpretation often involves ‘substantial judicial discretion’ and therefore constitutes ‘judicial lawmaking, not lawfinding,’ had by the 1950s, ‘become deeply rooted.'”

A “‘balanced realism,’ to use Brian Tamanaha’s appealing label, recognizes both that judges’ policy preferences have little or no influence on many judicial decisions and that judges’ policy preferences have a significant influence on other judicial decisions. Empirical studies tend to support this balanced view.” In other words, there is some role for ideology in making judicial decisions. Politics, therefore, is involved. Ware quotes Charles Gardner Geyh: “In a post-realist age, the ideological orientation of judicial aspirants matters.” And the higher the court, the more this matters.

Since judges function as lawmakers, they ought to be selected by a democratic process. In the Kansas version of the Missouri Plan, a nominating commission dominated by lawyers selects three candidates to fill an opening on the Kansas Supreme Court. The governor then selects one of the three, and the process is over. A new judge is selected. This process gives members of the state’s bar tremendous power in selecting judges.

In the paper, Ware presents eleven examples of judges on the two highest Kansas courts engaging in lawmaking. In one, a workers’ compensation case, the employee would lose his appeal if the “clear” precedent was followed. Justice Carol A. Beier wrote the opinion. Ware explains:

But this is not, in fact, what Justice Beier and her colleagues on the Kansas Supreme Court did. Rather they did what Kansas Judges Greene and Russell say never happens. Justice Beier and her colleagues engaged in lawmaking. They changed the legal rule from one contrary to their ideologies to one consistent with their ideologies.

Justice Beier’s opinion doing this started by criticizing the old rule, while acknowledging that it was, in fact, the rule prior to her opinion by which the Supreme Court made new law. Here again is the above quote from Coleman, but now with the formerly omitted words restored and italicized: “The rule is clear, if a bit decrepit and unpopular: An injury from horseplay does not arise out of employment and is not compensable unless the employer was aware of the activity or it had become a habit at the workplace.”

Who decided that this rule is “decrepit and unpopular” and so should be changed? Was it the Kansas Legislature? No, it was the Kansas Supreme Court. It was judges, not legislators, who decided that this legal rule was bad policy. It was judges, not legislators, who changed the law to bring it in line with what the lawmaking judges thought was good policy.

Beier wrote in her opinion: “We are clearly convinced here that our old rule should be abandoned. Although appropriate for the time in which it arose, we are persuaded by the overwhelming weight of contrary authority in our sister states and current legal commentary.”

The result: New Kansas law, made by people selected through an undemocratic process.

In conclusion, Ware writes:

Non-lawyers who believe in the principle that lawmakers should be selected democratically need to know that judicial selection is lawmaker selection to be troubled by the Missouri Plan’s violation of this principle. Non-lawyers who do not know that judges inevitably make law may believe that the role of a judge consists only of its professional/technical side and, therefore, believe that judges should be selected entirely on their professional competence and ethics and that assessments of these factors are best left to lawyers. In short, a lawyer who omits lawmaking from a published statement about the judicial role is furthering a misimpression that helps empower lawyers at the expense of non-lawyers, in violation of basic democratic equality, the principle of one-person, one-vote.

Prospects for Kansas

In Kansas, the process for selecting judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals is governed by statute, and can be changed by the legislature and governor. In 2012 the House of Representatives passed a bill to reform the process, but it was blocked by Senate Judiciary Chair Tim Owens. He said “I think this is the first time I did not hear a bill because I thought it was so bad. This is a terrible, terrible bill that’s hated by the courts; it’s an attempt to take over control of the courts.”

Owens, who ranked as the least friendly senator to economic freedom in the 2012 edition of the Kansas Economic Freedom Index, lost his bid for re-election in the August primary election. Many of the other moderate Republicans who voted against reform also lost their primary election contest.

Owens, it should be noted, is an attorney, and is, therefore, a member of the privileged class that has outsize power in selecting judges.

Sometimes legislators are simply uninformed or misinformed on judicial selection. An example is Jean Schodorf, who lost a re-election bid in August. In an interview, she was quoted as saying “We thwarted changes to judicial selection that would have allowed the governor to have the final say in all judicial selections.”

Contrary to Schodorf, the bill that the senate voted on, and the one that Owens killed the year before, called for Court of Appeals judges to be appointed by the governor, with the consent of the senate. It’s actually the senate that has the final say.

Newspaper editorial writers across Kansas are mostly opposed to judicial selection reform. An example is Rhonda Holman of the Wichita Eagle, who in 2010 wrote: “Some critics may have a beef with past court decisions, perhaps even a legitimate one — which is no surprise, given that judicial decisions pick winners and losers. But they also may be motivated by politics — which is a problem, given that the judiciary is supposed to be fair, impartial and independent. In the absence of a strong case for change, Kansas should stick with what works.”

With the change in the composition of the Kansas Senate, the climate became favorable for reform of the way judges are selected for the Kansas Court of Appeals. In 2013 legislation reforming judicial selection for this court was passed and signed into law, taking effect on July 1, 2013. Now these justices are selected by appointment of the governor with confirmation by the senate. The law governing how judges for the Kansas Supreme Court are selected is part of the Kansas Constitution, and would require an amendment to alter the process. That requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Kansas Legislature, and then a simple majority vote of the people.

By the way: For those who criticize the support for judicial selection reform as pure power politics, since Kansas has a conservative governor, remember this: When Professor Ware sounded the need for reform and convinced me of the need, our governor was the liberal Kathleen Sebelius. There was also a liberal senate at that time, one which would undoubtedly have rubberstamped any nominee Sebelius might have sent for confirmation.

Originalism, Balanced Legal Realism and Judicial Selection: A Case Study
By Stephen J. Ware

Abstract: The “balanced realist” view that judging inevitably involves lawmaking is widely accepted, even among originalists, such as Justice Scalia, Randy Barnett and Steven Calabresi. Yet many lawyers are still reluctant to acknowledge publicly the inevitability of judicial lawmaking. This reluctance is especially common in debates over the Missouri Plan, a method of judicial selection that divides the power to appoint judges between the governor and the bar.

The Missouri Plan is one of three widely-used methods of selecting state court judges. The other two are: (1) direct election of judges by the citizenry, and (2) appointment of judges by democratically elected officials, typically the governor and legislature, with little or no role for the bar. Each of these two methods of judicial selection respects a democratic society’s basic equality among citizens — the principle of one-person, one-vote. In contrast, the Missouri Plan violates this principle by making a lawyer’s vote worth more than another citizen’s vote.

This Article provides a case study of the clash between the inevitability of judicial lawmaking and the reluctance of lawyers to acknowledge this inevitability while defending their disproportionate power under the Missouri Plan. The Article documents efforts by lawyers in one state, Kansas, to defend their version of the Missouri Plan by attempting to conceal from the public the fact that Kansas judges, like judges in the other 49 states, inevitably make law. The case study then shows examples of Kansas judges making law. The Article concludes that honesty requires lawyers participating in the debate over judicial selection in the United States to forthrightly acknowledge that judges make law. Lawyers who seek to defend the power advantage the Missouri Plan gives them over other citizens can honestly acknowledge that this is a power advantage in the selection of lawmakers and then explain why they believe a departure from the principle of one-person, one-vote is justified in the selection of these particular lawmakers.

The complete paper may be downloaded at no charge here.

Kansas personal income grows

A recent spurt of growth of personal income in Kansas is welcome, considering the history of Kansas in this regard.

Kansas personal income grew in the quarter ending in June, with the Wichita Business Journal reporting “Kansas ranked 14th among states for second-quarter personal income growth.” The article also noted “According to data released Tuesday by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, personal income grew by 1.7 percent in the second quarter of 2014, faster than the national growth rate of 1.5 percent.”

Strong growth in personal income is good. But strong growth is not the norm for Kansas. The nearby chart shows cumulative growth of personal income in the states since 1990, with Kansas highlighted. Total growth for Kansas is 190 percent. For the entire county, it is 198 percent. For Plains states, 196 percent.

This is relevant to the decision Kansans will make in November when deciding their vote for governor. Progressive voices urge a return to the policies of Kathleen Sebelius and her successor (2003-2011), and Bill Graves (1995-2003). Sebelius, a Democrat, and Graves, a Republican, are seen by Progressives as paragons of “moderate,” “common-sense” leadership that is now — they say — missing.

An interactive visualization of personal income data is available for use here. You may select different time periods and any grouping of states. One of more states may be highlighted. There are similar charts in the visualization that show change in personal income year-over-year, and change from previous quarter.

Personal Income Growth in the States, Kansas highlighted. Click for larger version.
Personal Income Growth in the States, Kansas highlighted. Click for larger version.

SEC orders Kansas to stop doing what it did under Sebelius and Parkinson

The Securities and Exchange Commission found that Kansas mislead bond investors. It ordered the state to implement reforms, which it has.

Kansas Capitol
Kansas Capitol
According to a press release from the Securities and Exchange Commission, the State of Kansas “failed to disclose that the state’s pension system was significantly underfunded, and the unfunded pension liability created a repayment risk for investors in those bonds.”

This refers to a series of eight debt, or bond, issues in 2009 and 2010. Collectively they were worth $273 million. The SEC press release explains:

According to the SEC’s order against Kansas, the series of bond offerings were issued through the Kansas Development Finance Authority (KDFA) on behalf of the state and its agencies. According to one study at the time, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) was the second-most underfunded statewide public pension system in the nation. In the offering documents for the bonds, however, Kansas did not disclose the existence of the significant unfunded liability in KPERS. Nor did the documents describe the effect of such an unfunded liability on the risk of non-appropriation of debt service payments by the Kansas state legislature. The SEC’s investigation found that the failure to disclose this material information resulted from insufficient procedures and poor communications between the KDFA and the Kansas Department of Administration, which provided the KDFA with the information to include in the offering materials.

“Kansas failed to adequately disclose its multi-billion-dollar pension liability in bond offering documents, leaving investors with an incomplete picture of the state’s finances and its ability to repay the bonds amid competing strains on the state budget,” said LeeAnn Ghazil Gaunt, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit. “In determining the settlement, the Commission considered Kansas’s significant remedial actions to mitigate these issues as well as the cooperation of state officials with SEC staff during the investigation.”

In other words, Kansas had a grossly underfunded state pension system, and did not adequately disclose that to potential purchasers of new state debt. The full text of the order gives more detail as to how Kansas was an outlier among the states, not only in the magnitude of its problem, but in its lack of disclosure:

Kansas’s practice of not disclosing the underfunded status of KPERS became increasingly inconsistent with the practice of most states issuing municipal securities, which generally provided disclosure in their CAFRs or the body of their Official Statements regarding the financial health of their pension funds. By 2008, with the exception of Kansas, the overwhelming majority of the Official Statements for state-level bond issuances at a minimum disclosed the UAAL or funded ratios of the associated state-level pension plans, particularly if those plans were significantly underfunded.

Here’s what this means to public policy:

First, the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System (KPERS) was in terrible financial condition, compared to other states.

Second, Kansas did not adequately disclose that to potential investors, according to the SEC.

Third, reforms have been implement to the satisfaction of the SEC.

Kansas Department of Administration logoFourth, the SEC was quite critical of the Kansas Department of Administration, or KDA.

Fifth, the head of KDA at the time was Duane Goossen. On his blog his biography contains: “[Goossen] was appointed by Sebelius in 2004 to concurrently serve as Secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration, the agency that manages state facilities, accounting, information services and employee programs.”

Although retired from state government, Goossen maintained a role in public affairs as former Vice President for Fiscal and Health Policy at Kansas Health Institute, and now authors a blog concerning issues related to the Kansas budget.

More reporting on this matter from Kansas Watchdog is at SEC charges Kansas with fraud for Parkinson-era omissions.

Women for Kansas voting guide should be read with caution

If voters are relying on a voter guide from Women for Kansas, they should consider the actual history of Kansas taxation and spending before voting.

A political advocacy group known as Women for Kansas has produced a voting guide, listing the candidates that it prefers for Kansas House of Representatives. But by reading its “Primer on the Issues,” we see that this group made its endorsements based on incorrect information.

One claim the group makes is this regarding taxes in Kansas: “Income taxes were reduced for many Kansans in 2012 and 2013, and eliminated entirely for some, with a corresponding increased reliance on sales taxes and local property taxes. This shifted the tax burden to the less affluent and from the state to counties, cities and school districts.”

This is a common theme heard in Kansas the past few years. But let’s unravel a few threads and look at what is actually happening. First, keep in mind that the lower tax rates took effect on January 1, 2013, just 1.5 years ago.

Then, Women for Kansas may be relying on information like this: A university professor who is a critic of Sam Brownback recently wrote in a newspaper column that “Property taxes are on track to increase by more than $400 million statewide during Gov. Sam Brownback’s term in office.”

Through correspondence with the author, Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute found that this claim is based on increases of $300 million plus an estimated $100 million increase yet to come. Trabert noted that this amounts to an increase of 11 percent over four years. To place that in context, property taxes increased $767 million and 29 percent during the first term of Kathleen Sebelius. Inflation was about the same during these two periods. A more accurate claim would be that Kathleen Sebelius shifted taxes to counties, cities, and school districts, and that Sam Brownback’s administration has slowed the rate of local property tax increases compared to previous governors.

Another claim made by Women for Kansas concerns school spending: “Reflecting decreased revenues due to tax cuts, per-pupil spending is down, and both K-12 and higher education are facing further reductions in the immediate future.”

The allegations that per-pupil spending is down due to tax cuts is false. The nearby chart of Kansas school spending (per pupil, adjusted for inflation) shows that spending did fall, but under budgets prepared by the administrations of Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. Since then, spending has been fairly level. (Remember, lower tax rates have been in effect for just 1.5 years.)

Kansas school spending, per student, from state, local, and federal sources, adjusted for inflation.
Kansas school spending, per student, from state, local, and federal sources, adjusted for inflation.

If we look at other measures of school support, such as pupil teacher ratios, we find that after falling during the administrations of previous governors, these ratios have rebounded in recent years.

When spending figures for the just-completed school year become available, it’s likely that they will show higher spending than the previous year. That’s been the trend.

If you’ve received or read the voter guide from Women for Kansas, please consider the actual history of Kansas taxation and spending before voting.

The Kansas economy under guidance of moderates

Before wishing for a return to the “good old days,” let’s make sure we understand the record of the Kansas economy.

Some in Kansas are calling for a return to the “moderate” and “reasonable” policies of past leadership, with a particular nostalgia for the tenures of governors Bill Graves and Kathleen Sebelius. But before getting what we wish for, let’s make sure we understand the history of the Kansas economy.

In September 2005 the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University published a report titled “Measuring Economic Performance for the 50 States and the District of Columbia.” The data covers the ten years between 1994 and 2003. For context, Bill Graves became governor of Kansas in 1995 and served for eight years. Following is a sample from that document. It reads:

It is clear that the Kansas economy has not performed well over the past 10 years. With the exception of job creation (middle third), Kansas has ranked among the bottom third of states across economic performance measures. Kansas has performed below the average for the Plains States Region in 5 out of the 6 measures examined as well. (Job growth in Kansas equaled the regional average at 1.4 percent annually.)

Kansas Economic Performance, from Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University, September 2005

Let’s be careful what we wish for in Kansas.

Job growth in the states and Kansas

Let’s ask critics of current Kansas economic policy if they’re satisfied with the Kansas of recent decades.

Critics of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and his economic policies have pounced on slow job growth in Kansas as compared to other states.

Private sector employment growth in the states, Kansas highlighted. Click for larger version.
Private sector employment growth in the states, Kansas highlighted. Click for larger version.
The nearby illustration shows private sector job growth in the states during the period of the Graves/Sebelius/Parkinson regimes. This trio occupied the governor’s office from 1994 to 2011. Kansas is the dark line.

At the end of this period, Kansas is just about in the middle of the states. But notice that early in this period, the line for Kansas is noticeably nearer the top than the bottom. As time goes on, however, more states move above Kansas in private sector job creation.

Private sector employment growth in the states, year-over-year change, Kansas highlighted. Click for larger version.
Private sector employment growth in the states, year-over-year change, Kansas highlighted. Click for larger version.
The second illustration shows the one-year change in private sector job growth, Kansas again highlighted. Note there are some years during the first decade of this century where Kansas was very near the bottom of the states in this measure.

Some Kansas newspaper editorialists and candidates for office advocate for a return to the policies of Graves/Sebelius/Parkinson. Let’s ask them these questions: First, are you aware of the poor record of Kansas? Second, do you want to return to job growth like this?

How to use the visualization.
How to use the visualization.
I’ve gathered and prepared jobs data in an interactive visualization. You may click here to open the visualization in a new window and use it yourself. Data is from Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. This data series is the Current Employment Statistics (CES), which is designed to measure employment, hours, and earnings with significant industrial and geographic detail. More information about his data series is at Understanding the employment measures from the CPS and CES survey.

Kansas Open Records Act reform possible

This week a committee of the Kansas House of Representatives will hear testimony on SB 10, a bill which would make small but welcome reforms to the Kansas Open Records Act. Following is the testimony I plan to deliver. Citizens should be aware that cities, counties, and school districts will probably oppose these reforms.

Testimony to House Standing Committee on Federal and State Affairs as proponent of SB 10: Open meetings; minutes required; open records; charges limited.
Bob Weeks, March 19, 2014

Representative Brunk and members of the Committee:

Thank you for this opportunity to present testimony on problems with the Kansas Open Records Act regarding high fees for the production of records. In 2008 I personally encountered this problem, as reported in the Wichita Eagle:

Open Records Requests Can Spell High Fees

(Wichita Eagle, March 9, 2008)

Want information from the governor’s office? Get ready to pay up. That’s what Wichita blogger Bob Weeks says he discovered when he requested four days’ worth of e-mails sent and received by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and her staff.

To get the records , he was told he’d have to pay a lawyer in the governor’s office $27 an hour, for 50 hours, to read the e-mails to make sure they aren’t exempt from disclosure. That and 25 cents a page for copies or an unspecified extra charge to get the e-mails in electronic form. “Please make your check for the amount of $1,350 payable to the state of Kansas and reference your open records request,” said a letter Weeks received from JaLynn Copp, assistant general counsel to the governor.

State Sen. Timothy Huelskamp, R-Fowler, said he was aware of Weeks’ case. He said he thinks the fees are excessive. “It doesn’t mean much for it to be an open record if you can’t afford it,” he said. In addition, he said a sluggish response to the request from the governor’s office appears to have violated the state Open Records Act. Huelskamp said the law requires state agencies to fulfill records requests within three business days or provide a detailed reason why that can’t be done. Weeks mailed his request on Feb. 7 and got an initial response Feb. 13. His cost estimate didn’t come until Feb. 26, and neither letter explained the delay, Huelskamp said. “It’s really in violation of the letter and the spirit of the law and I’ve seen that happen more than once,” he said.

Based on this and other experience, I have found it is difficult to obtain email records at reasonable cost. If one makes a very narrowly-defined request that is affordable, there is a chance that the request will not produce the desired documents. If the request is broad enough to catch the records one needs, it is likely to be very expensive.

Kansas could use as a model the federal Freedom of Information Act (5 USC § 552), which provides for a limit on fees in certain cases: “Fees shall be limited to reasonable standard charges for document duplication when records are not sought for commercial use and the request is made by an educational or noncommercial scientific institution, whose purpose is scholarly or scientific research; or a representative of the news media.” (emphasis added)

Please do not be alarmed by government representatives making claims of abuses. Last year the Senate Committee that heard testimony on this bill was told that I made a request for 19,000 emails. My actual request was for emails to or from a certain official for a certain period of time. I had no way of knowing how many email messages this would entail. The City of Wichita denied this request as burdensome, so there was either no cost or very little cost for the city.

Finally, I would ask that the committee note that government records belong to the people, not the government, and that the people paid for their creation. I have additional information about the Kansas Open Records Act and its problems at wichitaliberty.org.

Respectfully submitted,
Bob Weeks
bob.weeks@gmail.com
wichitaliberty.org

2013 year in review: Top 10 stories from the Sunflower State

2013 year in review: Top 10 stories from the Sunflower State

By Travis Perry, Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — It’s over, done, finalized, finito. With the final days and hours of 2013 ticking to a close, we figured it’s a good time for reflection on what the last 12 months have brought the Sunflower State.

So, without further delay, Kansas Watchdog presents its Top 10 stories of 2013.

Strip Club

1. Wayward welfare dollars

An in-depth investigation into howKansans spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in government welfare money came to a shocking conclusion: a striking number of transactions appear to be going toward anything but the basic necessities. From casinos and liquor stores to smoke shops and even strip clubs, Kansas Watchdog uncovered more than $43,000 in transactions at shady ATM locations around the state. To make matters worse, all this only took place over a three-month period.

Read It:
Kansans spent welfare cash on strippers, smokes and sour mash

Video camera

2. Camera-shy state lawmakers

Fun fact: Did you know the Kansas Capitol is capable of broadcasting live video online of some of the Legislature’s most important committee meetings? Don’t beat yourself up over it. A striking number of lawmakers don’t know, either. It’s the end result of years of apathy that has led the state to be one of only 11 nationwide that do not stream some form of live video. If some kid in the middle of nowhere can attract global eyeballs with nothing more than a camera phone, what’s keeping the Kansas Legislature off the air?

Read it:
Camera shy: Kansas legislators sidestep transparency
Eye in the sky: Kansas legislative leader won’t require streaming video

3. Judicial selection gymnastics

Here’s a shocking revelation: politics sway candidate commentaries, and Kansas is no exception. Gov. Sam Brownback’s pick for the Kansas Court of Appeals is a prime example of this, after the situation prompted his Democratic gubernatorial challenger to switch sides on his stance to oppose the new nominee. And how could we forget that, in their rush to criticize the conservative governor, Kansas Democrats conveniently forgot thatKathleen Sebelius did almost the exact same thing only a few years earlier.

Read it:
Democratic leader flip-flops on Kansas judicial nominee
Partisan politics fuel Kansas Democrat’s change of heart
Kansas Democrats use double standard on judicial nomination criticism

4. Follow the money

And as long as we’re on the topic of judicial nominees, how about we turn the spotlight on a few other critics of Brownback’s decision? Namely theLeague of Women Voters and Justice At Stake, both of which claim to be nonpartisan organizations while simultaneously accepting large sums of cash from George Soros’ liberal nonprofits, the Tides Foundation and Open Society Institute.

Read it:
Soros bankrolls ‘nonpartisan’ critics of Kansas governor
‘Nonpartisan’ critic says Soros cash hasn’t caused political bias
money-limit

5. Fiscal follies

Ever wonder just how much work goes into calculating the cost of a legislative proposal? Not that much, apparently. While state agencies claim they don’t pad their figures, government critics charge them with doing just that, and a close inspection of a few cost estimates only bolsters the case. Should it cost $17,000 for the state to put online a spreadsheet of data it already has? What about $20,000 for a program agency officials say could have been absorbed in-house? Yea, we thought so too.

Read it:
Fiscal follies: Kansas cost estimates draw criticism

 
money jail

6. Your money, behind bars

How much should Kansas spend to lock up individuals whose only crime is drug related? While lawmakers are struggling to figure out what that figure should be, the reality is that Kansas drops about $42 million annually to keep these men and women in prison. To make matters worse, state law enforcement statistics suggest it’s overwhelmingly because of Kansas continues to wage war against marijuana.

Read it:
Kansas spends millions to keep non-violent drug offenders behind bars
Twinkies-2

7. Raking-in the dough

Remember the media flurry surrounding the implosion of Hostess, one of America’s most iconic snack food manufacturers? Well here’s something you probably missed. According to the government, former employees were knocked out due to foreign trade pressure, and for that deserve extra benefits above and beyond standard unemployment insurance. But everything uncovered by Kansas Watchdog seems to point to the contrary. Curious? So were we.

Read it:
Former Hostess workers land sweet deal, taxpayers foot bill
Did foreign trade really cause Hostess’ demise?
Couch fire

8. Couch crackdown

If you’re looking for the nuttiest story of the year, look no further. The City ofLawrence, Kansas’ liberal bastion, only months ago brought us the headache-inducing mandate that city residents are not, in fact, capable of policing their own safety. Rather, officials passed a ban on front porch couches, despite the fact that local and nationwide statistics suggest it’s less of an issue than advocates would have folks believe.

Read it:
Kansas community cracks down on couches
Islam Display

9. Islamic fervor

Wichita-area school came under fire earlier this year after students and parents were greeted on the first day of school with a large display outlining the five pillars of the Islamic faith. The matter prompted emotions of all scope and size, and landed the school squarely in the national spotlight.

Read it:
Kansas lawmaker ‘appalled’ by Islamic display in school
KansasSeal

10. Counting for attendance

The legislative session is a busy time for any elected official, but some are less (or more) busy than others, it seems. After Kansas lawmakers headed for home in June, Kansas Watchdog took an in-depth peek at how they faired in the preceding months, and what we found was jaw-dropping. In all, seven members of the House of Representatives had missed more votes than all other members of the House combined.

Read it:

Handful of Kansas lawmakers outpace all others for missed votes

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at@muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

Shortchanging Kansas schoolchildren, indeed

School blackboardThis month the New York Times published an editorial that advocates for more spending on Kansas public schools. While getting some facts wrong, the piece also overlooks the ways that Kansas schoolchildren are truly being shortchanged.

Here’s evidence supplied by the Times (Shortchanging Kansas Schoolchildren, October 13, 2013): “State spending on education has fallen an estimated 16.5 percent since 2008, including $500 million in cuts under the Brownback administration, resulting in teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.” (Governor Brownback has responded to the editorial; see Kansas Governor responds to the Times.)

The Times editorial board doesn’t say how it calculated the 16.5 percent decline in spending, but it’s likely that it used only base state aid per pupil, which is the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula. Much more spending is added to that. A nearby table holds spending figures for recent years, and a similar chart with inflation-adjusted figures may be found in Kansas school spending rises.

kansas-school-spending-2013-10-table-02

Perhaps the Times didn’t notice that at the time base state aid was falling, total state spending on schools rose. Base state aid per pupil, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was during the previous decade. Total Kansas state spending on schools, however, has recovered to the same level as 2006, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Total state aid per pupil this past school year was $6,984. Base state aid per pupil was $3,838. Total state spending, therefore, was 1.82 times base state aid. It’s important to consider the totality of spending and not just base state aid. It’s important because total spending is so much greater than base state aid. Also, total spending accounts for some of the difficulties and expenses that schools cite when asking for higher spending.

For example, advocates for higher school spending often point to non-English speaking students and at-risk students as being expensive to educate. In recognition of this, the Kansas school finance formula makes allowances for this. According to the Kansas Legislator Briefing Book for 2013, the weighting for “full-time equivalent enrollment in bilingual education programs” is 0.395. This means that for each such student a school district has, an additional 39.5 percent over base state aid is given to the district.

For at-risk pupils, the weighting is 0.456. At risk students, according to the briefing book, “are determined on the basis of at-risk factors determined by the school district board of education and not by virtue of eligibility for free meals.”

Taken together, bilingual students considered to be at-risk generate an additional 85.1 percent of base state aid to be sent to the district, per student.

Teachers and class sizes

The Times wrote that under Brownback, Kansas experienced “teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.” Figures from the Kansas State Department of Education tell a different story. Considering the entire state, two trends emerge. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the pupil-teacher ratio has fallen.

Kansas school employment

The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio to pupils has fallen. Pupil-teacher ratio is not the same as class size, but it’s the data we have.

Here’s the question we need to answer: If school districts have been able to hire more teachers and other certified employees, and if the student to teacher ratio is improving at the same time, but there are still high class sizes, what are school districts doing with these teachers and employees?

Kansas school employment ratios

By the way, the Times editorial writers might be interested in learning that the declines in school employment occurred during the administrations of Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, Democrats both.

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee).

If the Times really wanted to help Kansas schoolchildren from being shortchanged, it might have noticed that at a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state weakened its already low standards for schools. This is the conclusion of the National Center for Education Statistics, based on the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. More about that can be found in Why are Kansas school standards so low?

Another thing the Times could have done to increase the public’s awareness of the performance of Kansas schools is to investigate why Kansas schools perform relatively well on national tests. I and others have done this; see Kansas school test scores, a hidden story and Kansas and Texas schools and low-income students.

Kansas school employment trends are not what you’d expect

Listening to Kansas school officials and legislators, you’d think that Kansas schools had very few teachers left, and that students were struggling in huge classes. But statistics from the state show that school employment has rebounded, both in terms of absolute numbers of teachers and certified employees, and the ratios of pupils to these employees.

Kansas school employment

The story is not the same in every district. But considering the entire state, two trends emerge. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the pupil-teacher ratio has fallen.

Kansas school employment ratios

The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio to pupils has fallen.

By the way, the declines in school employment occurred during the administrations of Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, Democrats both.

Facts like these may not have yet reached those like Kansas House of Representatives Democratic Leader Paul Davis. On Facebook, he continually complains about the lack of funding for Kansas schools.

paul-davis-facebook-2013-04-14

It’s little wonder that Davis and others focus exclusively on Kansas school funding. If they were to talk about Kansas school performance, they’d have to confront two unpleasant realities. First, Kansas has set low standards for its schools, compared to other states. Then, when the Kansas Supreme Court ordered more spending in 2005, the state responded by lowering school standards further. Kansas school superintendents defend these standards.

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee).

Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

As lawmakers, Kansas judges should be selected democratically

Kansas Judicial Center in snowWhile many believe that judges should not “legislate from the bench,” that is, make law themselves, the reality is that lawmaking is a judicial function. In a democracy, lawmakers should be elected under the principle of “one person, one vote.” But Kansas, which uses the Missouri Plan for judicial selection to its two highest courts, violates this principle.

A recent paper by Kansas University School of Law Professor Stephen J. Ware explains the problem with the process used in Kansas. The paper is titled Originalism, Balanced Legal Realism and Judicial Selection: A Case Study and may be downloaded at no charge. The Kansas courts that use the judicial selection described in the paper are the Kansas Court of Appeals and the Kansas Supreme Court.

At issue is whether judges are simply arbitrators of the law, or do they actually participate in the lawmaking process. Ware explains: “This realist view that statutory interpretation often involves ‘substantial judicial discretion’ and therefore constitutes ‘judicial lawmaking, not lawfinding,’ had by the 1950s, ‘become deeply rooted.'”

A “‘balanced realism,’ to use Brian Tamanaha’s appealing label, recognizes both that judges’ policy preferences have little or no influence on many judicial decisions and that judges’ policy preferences have a significant influence on other judicial decisions. Empirical studies tend to support this balanced view.” In other words, there is some role for ideology in making judicial decisions. Politics, therefore, is involved. Ware quotes Charles Gardner Geyh: “In a post-realist age, the ideological orientation of judicial aspirants matters.” And the higher the court, the more this matters.

Since judges function as lawmakers, they ought to be selected by a democratic process. In the Kansas version of the Missouri Plan, a nominating commission dominated by lawyers selects three candidates to fill an opening on the Kansas Court of Appeals or Kansas Supreme Court. The governor then selects one of the three, and the process is over. A new judge is selected. This process gives members of the state’s bar tremendous power in selecting judges.

Ware presents eleven examples of judges on the two highest Kansas courts engaging in lawmaking. In one, a workers’ compensation case, the employee would lose his appeal if the “clear” precedent was followed. Justice Carol A. Beier wrote the opinion. Ware explains:

But this is not, in fact, what Justice Beier and her colleagues on the Kansas Supreme Court did. Rather they did what Kansas Judges Greene and Russell say never happens. Justice Beier and her colleagues engaged in lawmaking. They changed the legal rule from one contrary to their ideologies to one consistent with their ideologies.

Justice Beier’s opinion doing this started by criticizing the old rule, while acknowledging that it was, in fact, the rule prior to her opinion by which the Supreme Court made new law. Here again is the above quote from Coleman, but now with the formerly omitted words restored and italicized: “The rule is clear, if a bit decrepit and unpopular: An injury from horseplay does not arise out of employment and is not compensable unless the employer was aware of the activity or it had become a habit at the workplace.”

Who decided that this rule is “decrepit and unpopular” and so should be changed? Was it the Kansas Legislature? No, it was the Kansas Supreme Court. It was judges, not legislators, who decided that this legal rule was bad policy. It was judges, not legislators, who changed the law to bring it in line with what the lawmaking judges thought was good policy.

Beier wrote in her opinion: “We are clearly convinced here that our old rule should be abandoned. Although appropriate for the time in which it arose, we are persuaded by the overwhelming weight of contrary authority in our sister states and current legal commentary.”

The result: New Kansas law, made by people selected through an undemocratic process.

In conclusion, Ware writes:

Non-lawyers who believe in the principle that lawmakers should be selected democratically need to know that judicial selection is lawmaker selection to be troubled by the Missouri Plan’s violation of this principle. Non-lawyers who do not know that judges inevitably make law may believe that the role of a judge consists only of its professional/technical side and, therefore, believe that judges should be selected entirely on their professional competence and ethics and that assessments of these factors are best left to lawyers. In short, a lawyer who omits lawmaking from a published statement about the judicial role is furthering a misimpression that helps empower lawyers at the expense of non-lawyers, in violation of basic democratic equality, the principle of one-person, one-vote.

Prospects for Kansas

In Kansas, the process for selecting judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals is governed by statute, and can be changed by the legislature and governor. Last year the House of Representatives passed a bill to reform the process, but it was blocked by Senate Judiciary Chair Tim Owens. He said “I think this is the first time I did not hear a bill because I thought it was so bad. This is a terrible, terrible bill that’s hated by the courts; it’s an attempt to take over control of the courts.”

Owens, who ranked as the least friendly senator to economic freedom in the 2012 edition of the Kansas Economic Freedom Index, lost his bid for re-election in the August primary election. Many of the other moderate Republicans who voted against reform also lost their primary election contest.

Owens, it should be noted, is an attorney, and is therefore a member of the privileged class that has outsize power in selecting judges.

Sometimes legislators are simply uninformed or misinformed on judicial selection. An example is Jean Schodorf, who lost a re-election bid in August. In an interview, she was quoted as saying “We thwarted changes to judicial selection that would have allowed the governor to have the final say in all judicial selections.”

The bill that the senate voted on, and the one that Owens killed the year before, called for Court of Appeals judges to be appointed by the governor, with the consent of the senate. It’s actually the senate that has the final say.

Newspaper editorial writers across Kansas are mostly opposed to judicial selection reform. An example is Rhonda Holman of the Wichita Eagle, who in 2010 wrote: “Some critics may have a beef with past court decisions, perhaps even a legitimate one — which is no surprise, given that judicial decisions pick winners and losers. But they also may be motivated by politics — which is a problem, given that the judiciary is supposed to be fair, impartial and independent. In the absence of a strong case for change, Kansas should stick with what works.”

With the change in composition of the Kansas Senate, the climate is more favorable for reform for the way judges are selected for the Kansas Court of Appeals. The law governing how judges for the Kansas Supreme Court are selected is in the Kansas Constitution, and would require an amendment to alter the process. Such an amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Kansas Legislature, and then a simple majority vote of the people.

By the way: For those who criticize the support for judicial selection reform as pure power politics, since Kansas has a conservative governor, remember this: When Professor Ware sounded the need for reform and convinced me of the need, our governor was the liberal Kathleen Sebelius. There was also a liberal senate at that time, one which would undoubtedly have rubberstamped any nominee Sebelius might have sent for confirmation.

Originalism, Balanced Legal Realism and Judicial Selection: A Case Study
By Stephen J. Ware

Abstract: The “balanced realist” view that judging inevitably involves lawmaking is widely accepted, even among originalists, such as Justice Scalia, Randy Barnett and Steven Calabresi. Yet many lawyers are still reluctant to acknowledge publicly the inevitability of judicial lawmaking. This reluctance is especially common in debates over the Missouri Plan, a method of judicial selection that divides the power to appoint judges between the governor and the bar.

The Missouri Plan is one of three widely-used methods of selecting state court judges. The other two are: (1) direct election of judges by the citizenry, and (2) appointment of judges by democratically elected officials, typically the governor and legislature, with little or no role for the bar. Each of these two methods of judicial selection respects a democratic society’s basic equality among citizens — the principle of one-person, one-vote. In contrast, the Missouri Plan violates this principle by making a lawyer’s vote worth more than another citizen’s vote.

This Article provides a case study of the clash between the inevitability of judicial lawmaking and the reluctance of lawyers to acknowledge this inevitability while defending their disproportionate power under the Missouri Plan. The Article documents efforts by lawyers in one state, Kansas, to defend their version of the Missouri Plan by attempting to conceal from the public the fact that Kansas judges, like judges in the other 49 states, inevitably make law. The case study then shows examples of Kansas judges making law. The Article concludes that honesty requires lawyers participating in the debate over judicial selection in the United States to forthrightly acknowledge that judges make law. Lawyers who seek to defend the power advantage the Missouri Plan gives them over other citizens can honestly acknowledge that this is a power advantage in the selection of lawmakers and then explain why they believe a departure from the principle of one-person, one-vote is justified in the selection of these particular lawmakers.

The complete paper may be downloaded at no charge here.

Kansas Democrats mailing again, and wrong again

It’s campaign season, and mail pieces are flying fast, replete with more Kansas Democratic errors.

Examples come from two mailers from the Kansas Democratic Party targeting Joseph Scapa, a one-term Republican incumbent seeking to return to the House or Representatives.

Here’s one: “SCAPA voted for the largest cut to school funding in Kansas history — schools are closing, class sizes are increasing and fees are going up on parents. Sub HB 2014 (HJ 5/12/11, p. 1570)”

This is a repeat of a mistaken claim made on other anti-Scapa mailings, for which Kansas Democrats have apologized.

Here’s something from another ant-Scapa mail piece from the Kansas Democratic Party: “The Brownback Agenda included the largest cut to public education funding in Kansas history in order to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations.”

This claim is incorrect, too. As explained in Kansas Democrats wrong on school spending, the claims of education cuts generally consider only Kansas state spending on schools, neglecting federal and local sources of funds. In the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 schools years, federal aid soared as a result of the Obama stimulus program. These funds almost made up for the decline in state spending, meaning that total spending on Kansas schools declined only slightly.

(You’d think that Kansas Democrats would want to remind us of the supposedly wonderful things the Obama stimulus accomplished, but evidently not when the facts are inconvenient.)

Then, who was Kansas governor during the years that Kansas state spending on schools actually declined? Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. They’re Democrats, I believe.

Here’s something else from a mailer from the Kansas Democrats:

JOE SCAPA is just another rubber stamp for Sam Brownback.
JOE SCAPA VOTES WITH SAM
BROWNBACK 92.33% OF THE TIME.*
Instead of working to create jobs and improve education, Scapa has been nothing more than a rubber stamp for Governor Brownback’s irresponsible agenda.
*www.KanFocus.com, Republican Support Rankings

Most people don’t have access to KanFocus, a useful but expensive subscription information service. The rankings that the mailer refers to, according to KanFocus, “… show the percentage of votes on which each Representative voted with and against the majority of Republicans.”

So it’s not a measure of how closely Representatives’ votes align with Governor Brownback, but with the majority of Republicans. Oops.

Aside from that, Scapa ranked 56 out of 93 Republicans that cast votes in 2012. Then, consider that most of the Republicans who ranked “higher” than Scapa (meaning they voted less often with the Republican majority) are legislators who in most states would be Democrats.

An accurate assessment, then, of Scapa’s voting record is that he is relatively independent from the Republican majority in his voting. Which is not the same as the Brownback agenda, as the Democratic Party mailer erroneously claims.

Kansas Democrats wrong on school spending

While the Kansas Democratic Party apologized last week for misstating candidates’ voting record on two mail pieces, the party and its candidates continue a campaign of misinformation regarding spending on Kansas public schools.

Many of the allegations are made against Kansas Governor Sam Brownback for purportedly cutting school spending. An example is on the Kansas Democratic Party Facebook page, which can be seen nearby.

As part of the party’s website, on a page titled Restore Education Funding, Kansas Democrats make this claim:

An Education Fact

Between FY2008-2009 and FY2011-2012, general state aid to education was cut by nearly $400 million. In just thee [sic] years, that’s a reduction of $620 for every schoolchild in the state.

This claim is repeated on candidates’ web sites, such as this example from senatorial candidate Tim Snow, which reads: “In the last three years, conservatives in Topeka have slashed education spending by $620 per student.”

The problem is that these claims aren’t factual. Consider the numbers from the Kansas Democrat website. In 2008-2009 Kansas state spending on schools was $3,287,165,278, according to the Kansas State Department of Education. In 2011-2012, that figure was $3,184,163,559. That’s a difference of $103,001,719, which is a long way from $400 million, the number claimed by Democrats.

Looking at spending per pupil figures, the change was from $7,344 to $6,983. That’s $361, not $620 as Democrats claim.

The Democrats are also considering only Kansas state spending on schools, neglecting federal and local sources of funds. In the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 schools years, federal aid soared as a result of the Obama stimulus program. These funds almost made up for the decline in state spending, meaning that total spending on Kansas schools declined only slightly.

(You’d think that Kansas Democrats would want to remind us of the supposedly wonderful things the Obama stimulus accomplished, but evidently not when the facts are inconvenient.)

Then, who was Kansas governor during the years that Kansas state spending on schools declined? Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. They’re Democrats, I believe.

There are more examples of Democrats misleading Kansans. Here’s Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley: “But Gov. Brownback is acting on the assumption that schools aren’t stretching every dollar to the last cent, even after he made the largest cut to public education in Kansas history.” (Dems seek input from parents, educators on impact of school funding cuts.) (emphasis added)

Paul Davis, the Kansas House of Representatives Minority Leader, was quoted in the Lawrence Journal-World as saying “Instead of hosting an online forum to complain about public schools, why not discuss all the innovative ways our teachers and administrators have done more with less since Gov. Brownback implemented the largest cut to education funding in Kansas history?” (emphasis added)

Hensley and Davis are two of the top Democrats in Kansas, absolutely so in the Kansas Legislature.

It’s easy to understand why Democrats focus on school spending. It’s easy to persuade parents — and anyone, for that matter — that if we want the best for Kansas schoolchildren, we need to spend more.

More spending in schools means more spending in largely Democratic hands, and more public sector union members, a key Democratic constituency.

The school spending advocates have done a good job promoting their issue, too. On a survey, not only did Kansans underestimate school spending levels, they did so for the state portion of school funding, and again for the total of all funding sources — state, federal, and local. Kansans also thought spending had declined, when it had increased. See Kansans uninformed on school spending. Similar findings have been reported across the country.

Spending more on schools is seen as an easy way to solve a problem. But the problems facing Kansas schools will require different approaches, and the Kansas school establishment won’t consider them. For a list of reforms that are needed, but resisted, see Kansas school reform issues.

Kansas Democrats should consider themselves fortunate that our governor isn’t pressing for the reform that Democrats really hate: school choice.

Huelskamp: Kansas needs Health Care Freedom Amendment

An open letter from Congressman Tim Huelskamp of the Kansas first district to Republican Kansas State Senators Pete Brungardt, Jay Emler, Terrie Huntington, Jeff Longbine, Carolyn McGinn, Steve Morris, Tim Owens, Roger Reitz, Vicki Schmidt, Jean Schodorf, Ruth Teichman, Dwayne Umbarger, and John Vratil. These are the “traditional,” “reasonable,” “moderate” Kansan Republicans.

July 31, 2012

Dear Senator:

While all Republicans in Washington are working hard to fulfill Kansans’ wishes to stop ObamaCare from destroying our liberties, I am disappointed that you and many other Topeka politicians are actually hindering our efforts.

The reasons to undo ObamaCare are countless. It carries a trillion-dollar price tag over the next decade. It increases family premiums, burdens our small businesses, invades our privacy, and stomps on our religious freedom. States like Kansas will continue to bear the costs of expensive federal mandates. And, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has refused to offer waivers she was more than willing to grant to unions and businesses connected to the Obama Administration.

As you may know, before being elected to Congress, I strongly supported adding the Health Care Freedom Amendment to our state Constitution. If passed, it would allow Kansans to have a say on a law they fundamentally oppose: ObamaCare. The citizens of Ohio were given this opportunity — so should the people of Kansas.

However, when this Amendment came to you during the 2012 Session, I was extremely disappointed that you refused to allow a vote of the people if the law was upheld by the Supreme Court. What a mistake. Kansans deserve to have a say on ObamaCare — whether you like it or not — and whether a narrow Supreme Court majority refuses to defend the Constitution.

As you know, ObamaCare is a significant threat to the wallets, the liberties, and health care access of Kansans. It was rammed through Congress behind closed doors, without public input, and many are still reading it “to see what was in it.” And for you to hide behind the Supreme Court and with Obama, Pelosi and Reid instead of the people of Kansas — that is very disappointing.

In closing, please reconsider your opposition to putting the Health Care Freedom Amendment to a vote of the Kansas people.

Sincerely,

Tim Huelskamp

Looking for Senator Reasonable

Below, Alan Cobb of Americans for Prosperity Foundation provides rebuttal to a recent op-ed by H. Edward Flentje of the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs at Wichita State University. In his op-ed (Senate elections will shape state’s future, June 24, 2012 Wichita Eagle) Flentje explains his interpretation of the importance of eight Kansas Senate races where Republican incumbents have conservative challengers. These races will likely determine balance of power in the Senate, which has been controlled by a coalition of Democrats and left-leaning Republicans, usually called “moderate” Republicans. A version of this appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

Looking for Senator Reasonable

By Alan Cobb, Americans for Prosperity Foundation

I’ve been looking for those reasonable Kansas state senators who occupy leadership positions that my friend Ed Flentje mentioned a few days ago in this paper. I looked and looked, but can’t find them.

The Senate leadership I’ve seen for more than the last decade certainly isn’t opposed to tax increases, sometimes actively supporting them, and has done everything they can to thwart any kind of spending reform.

Nearly every good piece of public policy that has passed the Kansas Legislature during this time frame has been despite Senate leadership efforts to stop it. This includes the nation’s first budget transparency act, which AFP worked hand-in-hand with the Kansas Press Association to pass, over strong objections and efforts to kill the bill by Republican leaders in the Senate

I always smile when so-called “traditional” Kansas Republicans invoke the name of one of my heroes, Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower was hardly a moderate. He was the last President to oversee a true reduction of Federal spending. Over the last several decades, Kansas moderates treat spending increases as fait accompli and spending cuts as the end of the world as we know it. This is not how Eisenhower would have governed and this is not how he did govern.

Senate leaders and those who have supported them have not exercised fiscal restraint as Dr. Flentje states, and to say so really strains credulity. Or in the vernacular I like to use, that dog don’t hunt.

Since Steve Morris was elected Senate President in 2004, State General Fund spending has increased almost 31 percent while inflation during that same time period has been a little over 18 percent. Total Kansas government spending, including Federal contributions, has increased more than 39 percent. Though 2012 data isn’t available yet, population growth in Kansas from 2004 to 2011 has increased by a disappointing 4.5 percent.

Most Kansans, including those of the traditional moderate Republican persuasion probably would not describe that as fiscal restraint.

This group of moderate senators has not proposed alternatives and has simply made every effort to stop legislation supported by Gov. Brownback and other limited government, free market senators. As much as being so-called moderates, this group of senators has really been simply anti-conservative. It really isn’t much of an intellectual base for public policy.

Those that support a different path for our State want something better for Kansans. Certainly those that support the status quo desire the same. The results of the status quo are known. We shall see the outcome of bold change

I agree with Dr. Flentje that the results of August 7 could fundamentally change the future of Kansas. Under the current leadership that can be traced to Govs. Mike Hayden, Joan Finney, Bill Graves and Kathleen Sebelius, we’ve seen significant state budget growth, large state debt increase, state tax increases, sluggish economic growth and slow population growth. We have more people moving out of Kansas than moving in and those moving out are headed to states with a lower tax burden than Kansas.

I don’t know about the rest of the state, but this Kansan does not think that is a path that we should continue.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday January 16, 2012

Tax cuts = extra income? Commenting on Kansas tax reform, Wichita Business Journal editor Bill Roy said “Certainly for business people, it’s the elimination of the income tax on business income. … They’ll appreciate having that extra income that they can use on other things in their business.” I don’t know how much thought Roy gave to these remarks, but his easy likening of lower taxes to extra income is symptomatic of the problem: We have become accustomed to government having a claim on our income. In the rare instances where government gives up part of that claim, we taxpayers are supposed to view it as a gift, as something extra. Roy’s remarks were broadcast on the KPTS television program Impact while discussing Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s tax reform plan. … Similar lines of thinking are revealed whenever it is said that tax cuts “cost” the government. The proper way of thinking is that government is a cost to the people, and whenever the cost of government is reduced, we experience a benefit. That is, we the people, as contrasted to the political class. If the government cuts taxes, the government gives us nothing. It simply takes less of what is ours in the first place. … I’m also reminded of former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who when commenting on a reduction of the Kansas business machinery tax, said “We’re not giving away money for the sake of giving it away.”

Revenue-neutral tax reform. If Kansas tax reform is to be revenue-neutral, that — by definition — means that if one person pays less, someone else has to make up the difference. Peter Hancock of Kansas Education Policy Report has such an example in his post Winners and Losers in Brownback’s Tax Plan. A low-income family would experience a tax increase of $442 (mostly through loss of the Earned Income Tax Credit), while a middle class family with business income would save about $300. These examples were released by Kansas Democrats. … Hancock also reports that the Brownback administration’s projections assume 5.9 percent annual growth, instead of the standard 4 percent used by the Consensus Estimating Group. A common criticism of President Barack Obama’s administration is that its projections are based on an overly-optimistic rate of future economic growth. We shouldn’t do the same in Kansas.

Peterjohn to speak. This Friday (January 20th) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn. He says he will speak on “critical national problems we are facing with a historical perspective.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. Upcoming speakers: On January 27, 2012: The Honorable Jennifer Jones, Administrative Judge, Wichita Municipal Court, speaking on “An overview of the Wichita Municipal Court.”

Southwest to fly to Wichita. Since it gobbled up AirTran, the question has been: Will Southwest Airlines provide service in Wichita? Now we know the answer is yes. While the airline has recently started service in some markets without the large, ongoing subsidies that Wichita and the state provide, that won’t be the case in Wichita, according to news reports. … Last year I reported on Southwest starting service in Charleston, South Carolina, whose metropolitan area population is similar to that of Wichita: “In the Charleston situation, there evidently won’t be the massive state-supplied subsidy as we have in Kansas. But Southwest will still get a leg up: A USA Today story quotes a Charleston airport official saying ‘Southwest didn’t want a state subsidy, but was interested in the airport’s incentives a temporary waiver of landing fees, up to $10,000 to market new flights, and up to $150,000 for other start-up costs.'” That’s a lot less than what Wichita and Kansas offer. .. Will the need for subsidies last? About this time last year, Wichita City Manager Robert Layton said “The Southwest business model doesn’t require subsidies over a long period of time.” Of course, we were told that the subsidy for AirTran would be required for only a short period, but the program grew and grew until it is now considered part of our state’s transportation infrastructure.

Kansas economic development incentives. In an Insight Kansas column, Professor Chapman Rackaway of Fort Hays State University concludes: “No state will abandon the tax-incentive recruitment strategy for fear of being the only business suitor with nothing to offer. But the tax-incentive strategy remains a risky one, and perhaps it is time for Kansas and other governments to re-evaluate the practice.” … Earlier in the article he cites the lack of oversight among the states: “States and localities are regularly in competition with one another for scarce jobs. However, a 2001 article in Economic Development Quarterly reported that, despite the billions distributed annually as incentives, states were doing little evaluation of incentives’ effectiveness or their return on investment.” (Kansas has done a little of this; see here. A quote from the Kansas audit: “Most studies of economic development incentives suggest these incentives don’t have a significant impact on economic growth. The literature we reviewed concluded that, thus far, negative and inconclusive findings are far more numerous than positive findings. Most reviews of economic development assistance find few results are achieved — a theme that audits in Kansas and other states commonly find, as well. Findings of ineffectiveness include promised jobs weren’t created, return on investment is low or negative, and incentives offered weren’t a determining factor.” But also: “The literature also suggests that economic development incentives must be offered to remain competitive with other states.”) … But I think there is a way out. In his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy, Professor Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business wrote this regarding “benchmarking” — the bidding wars for large employers that are the subject of Rackaway’s article: “Kansas can break out of the benchmarking race by developing a strategy built on embracing dynamism. Such a strategy, far from losing opportunity, can distinguish itself by building unique capabilities that create a different mix of value that can enhance the probability of long-term economic success through enhanced opportunity. Embracing dynamism can change how Kansas plays the game.”

Story is broken. “Prof. Art Carden responds to ‘The Story of Broke,’ a recent video by the creators of ‘The Story of Stuff.’ In ‘The Story of Broke,’ Annie Leonard claims that the government isn’t actually broke. Rather, the government just wastes resources on the wrong things like subsidies to the dinosaur economy and war. She claims that the government should change its ways, and instead, subsidize firms that will bring us the future we really want. Art Carden agrees with Leonard that war and subsidies are wasteful, but is skeptical of notion that there is one unified vision for the future. To Carden, everyone has a different vision for the future. Our path to the future, he argues, is determined by the interactions of billions of unique individuals pursuing their own objectives. … Carden concludes that government spending won’t buy a brighter future. A brighter future will emerge when people are allowed to spend money on things they care about. Put another way, positive change will come from billions of people cooperating freely and voluntarily with one another, not from pushing trillions of dollars through a broken political process.” This video is from LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies, and many other informative videos are available.

Huelskamp on spending, health information database, and Buffett

Addressing members and guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club last Friday, U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp of the Kansas first district updated the audience on national spending and debt, a health information database that poses privacy risks, and Warren Buffett’s taxes.

On being a new member of Congress, Huelskamp said people ask me “is Washington everything you thought it would be?” And I answer yes — and much worse.

He told the audience that the Washington Post newspaper has identified him as a member of the “Apocalypse Caucus,” a group of twenty lawmakers that have voted no for almost everything, including raising the debt ceiling. The Post says these lawmakers would be willing to shut down the government simply to make a point. Huelskamp told the audience “The point we need to remember is there is an apocalypse ahead unless we rein in spending, unless we rein in this president, unless we rein in the regulations.”

Huelskamp said that for every dollar spent in Washington, 41 cents is borrowed money. And while some in Washington say that there is a plan to get things under control, he said this is not happening yet.

He described a budget committee hearing in which four economists testified. He asked how long do we have until we reach the point of no return such as Greece is at presently, where they can’t pay back their debt? The first economist, a conservative, said “act as if you have no time left.” The other three economists — moderates and liberals — said they agreed with the first economist’s assessment.

During a series of budget negotiations in the spring, Huelskamp said that initially House leadership had started with the idea of cutting $100 billion. But that number was thought to be too much, and eventually Congress and the president settled on cuts of $25 billion. But the actual spending that was cut was only $350 million, or just about one-third of a billion dollars.

Huelskamp described the debt ceiling negotiations in the summer as a situation where the president had to have Congress’s permission to raise the debt ceiling. But he said Congress agreed to no cuts at all, despite having this power. He didn’t want to vote to just “kick the can down the road,” and that’s why he voted against raising the debt ceiling in August.

He also told of hearing from a high-ranking Chinese official at a budget committee hearing. The official — Huelskamp reminded the audience that China is a communist country — told the committee members the things they would have to do with the budget. While Huelskamp agreed with the official’s assessment of what the U.S. needed to do with its budget, he wondered how do we get in this position, where we turn over, often, our sovereignty to foreign nations.

Huelskamp cited a national poll that found that 48 percent believe the American dream is dead. In his town hall meetings — he’s held about 70 so far — he estimates 90 percent believe the American dream is gone, or soon to be gone. “Most Americans, including Kansans, as optimistic as we are, are worried about what’s going on in Washington. And they don’t know who to blame, and they’re going to start blaming everybody. I’m one of the few who believe the American dream is still alive and well.”

Switching topics, Huelskamp described former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, now Secretary of Health and Human Services, as the third-most powerful person in Washington, due to her position implementing national health care.

Regarding health care, Huelskamp is troubled by a database HHS is proposing that will be used to regulate insurance companies. If insurance companies sign up healthy people, they will be taxed, and they will receive subsidies for insuring sick people. Huelskamp said the only way to determine this behavior by insurance companies — are they insuring the healthy or sick? — is by looking at the health insurance histories of the individual people each company insures. He views this as a threat to patient privacy.

According to Wichita Eagle reporting, HHS will collect only information that is not personally identifiable.

But in a Washington Examiner op-ed on this topic, Huelskamp wrote: “The federal government does not exactly have a stellar track record when it comes to managing private information about its citizens.” He provided several examples of data being lost.

As ObamaCare is evolving in the rule-making process overseen by Sebelius, we can’t be sure what requirements, regulations, or uses might be found for this patient health history data.

On Warren Buffett, Huelskamp said that Buffett sheltered $24 million from taxation on his most recent tax return. “Mr. Buffett doesn’t want Mr. Obama to have his money, either. It’s called hypocrisy. He doesn’t trust him with his money. Which is why — you’ve got to give him credit — he’s planning to give every single last dime to charity.”

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday August 10, 2011

Kansas House Appropriations Chair to speak. This Friday’s meeting (August 12th) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club Kansas Representative Marc Rhoades, Chair of the Kansas House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, speaking on the topic “The impact of the freshman legislators on the 2011 House budgetary process.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club … Upcoming speakers: On August 19, Jay M. Price, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Director of the public history program at Wichita State University, speaking on “Clashes of Values in Kansas History.” His recent Wichita Eagle op-ed was Kansas a stage for “values showdowns.” … On August 26, Kansas State Representatives Jim Howell and Joseph Scapa speaking on “Our freshmen year in the Kansas Legislature.” … On September 2 the Petroleum Club is closed for the holiday, so there will be no meeting. … On September 9, Mark Masterson, Director, Sedgwick County Department of Corrections, on the topic “Juvenile Justice System in Sedgwick County.” Following, from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm, Pachyderm Club members and guests are invited to tour the Sedgwick County Juvenile Detention Center located at 700 South Hydraulic, Wichita, Kansas. … On September 16, Merrill Eisenhower Atwater, great grandson of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, will present a program with the topic to be determined. … On September 23, Dave Trabert, President of Kansas Policy Institute, speaking on the topic Why Not Kansas,” an initiative to provide information about school choice. … On September 30, U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo of Wichita on “An update from Washington.”

Sebelius responds to waivers inquiry. In June U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp, who is in his first term representing the Kansas first district, along with others asked Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for information about the Obamacare waivers HHS has been granting. He got a response — except it’s not a response. In a statement, Huelskamp said “No details and no additional information about the Annual Limit Waivers were provided, so again we remain in the dark about this secretive process. Candidate Obama promised to be the most ‘open and transparent’ in history — a far cry from President Obama. The American people have a right to know why this new health care law is unfairly applied and what they can do to be exempted from ObamaCare. If one person, labor union, state, or business can get a waiver, then everybody should be able to get waivers.” … Huelskamp is not alone in noting the lack of transparency in the Obama administration.

Brownback to Sebelius: No thanks. Speaking of Secretary Sebelius, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has decided to return a grant the state received for being an “early innovator” in implementing portions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), better known as Obamacare. A statement from the governor’s office reads: “There is much uncertainty surrounding the ability of the federal government to meet it’s already budgeted future spending obligations. Every state should be preparing for fewer federal resources, not more. To deal with that reality Kansas needs to maintain maximum flexibility. That requires freeing Kansas from the strings attached to the Early Innovator Grant. … “Federal Medicaid mandates have cost Kansans over 400 million in the past 2 years alone. Full implementation of the mandates in the President’s health care law would cost billions more,” said {Lieutenant Governor] Dr. [Jeff] Colyer. “We will work to find innovative Kansas based solutions to Kansas challenges and be very selective in the federal funds the state applies for and receives. We look forward to working with legislative leaders and Insurance Commissioner Praeger as we develop Kansas solutions.”

‘Nullify Now’ tour in Kansas City. The idea that states can nullify unconstitutional laws passed by Congress is gaining traction as a way to reign in the federal government. Next week an event in Kansas City will help citizens learn more about this possibility. Writes the event’s organizers: “Crushing debt, health care mandates, ‘super’ congress, and more. The list of constitutional violations from DC never seems to end. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for DC to fix itself. As Thomas Jefferson told us, state nullification is “THE RIGHTFUL REMEDY” to unconstitutional actions by the federal government. … At Nullify Now! Kansas City, you’ll hear nationally-renowned speaker Thomas Woods (and nine others) present the constitutional case for nullification. You’ll learn: the constitutional basis for nullification, how nullification has been used in history, how nullification is being called upon right now vs Obamacare, to protect gun rights, against the TSA, and more, and what YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW to get your state to put a stop to the Feds.” The event is Saturday August 20, and tickets, ranging in cost from free to $75, are required. For more information click on Nullify Now! Kansas City.

‘Birth of Freedom’ screening. On Monday (August 15th) the film The Birth of Freedom will be shown for free in Wichita. The film is a product of the Acton Institute, whose mission statement describes the institute as “[promoting] a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.” This free event is Monday from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Lionel D. Alford Library located at 3447 S. Meridian in Wichita. The library is just north of the I-235 exit on Meridian. The event’s sponsor is Americans for Prosperity, Kansas. For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415. … I’ve been told by those who have viewed the film that it is a very moving presentation. A trailer or preview may be viewed below.